A confluence of factors has led to the rapid adoption of green energy solutions in recent years. The cost of installing and maintaining systems continues to drop as manufacturing of green products becomes streamlined. Technological advances have led to more efficient systems capable of greater energy creation. Integrating a variety of alternative energy sources adds fuel diversity to our energy grid. And many individuals point to alternative energy as a critical step in building sustainable and environmentally-friendly infrastructure.
While options like solar and wind energy have certainly become cost-effective and environmentally friendly solutions, there is another alternative that is growing in popularity because it not only generates clean energy, but tackles another environmental concern at the same time.
You’re likely familiar with the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” But it was probably uttered in the context of browsing for items at yard sales or websites like Craigslist. Of late, the popular phrase has started to take on a much more literal meaning.
Around the world, demand is increasing for waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities that incinerate garbage and produce electricity in the process. This is significant for a number of reasons.
According to Duke University’s Center for Sustainability and Commerce, 121 million tons of waste created in the United States each year ends up in landfills. These landfills are responsible for 22 percent of human-related methane emissions, one of the most impactful greenhouse gasses to our planet today. By repurposing waste, we can veer away from landfills and curb emissions that negatively impact atmospheric conditions and air quality.
And while WTE facility carbon emissions are comparable to those of traditional coal and natural gas plants, advances are being made that will capture carbon dioxide instead of releasing it into the atmosphere, making waste incineration even more eco-friendly.
In addition, WTE facilities make other environmental efforts simpler too. Traditional landfills are full of scrap metal that, while recyclable, is difficult to sort. By incinerating waste, recyclable material is isolated in the process, making recycling much more efficient.
Reducing reliance on landfills also has the added benefit of curbing the need for waste trucking. This will help take excess transport vehicles off the road, further reducing emissions.
According to the United States Energy Information Administration, there were 71 WTE facilities across the country as of 2015. These facilities created 2.3 gigawatts of electricity. In comparison, the Hoover Dam generates 2 gigawatts itself. While our current infrastructure is a positive step, there is clearly room to expand WTE usage. For an example, Sweden derives 8.5 percent of its electricity from waste incineration, leaving only 1 percent of its trash in landfills.
There is immense potential for environmentally friendly energy creation in WTE facilities, but they are still just one part of the equation. To learn more about green energy solutions available today, click here.