Comparison of Emissions From WTE and Coal-Fired Power Plants

Publish Date: 2006

  • Instead of being landfilled, MSW that is not recycled can be used as a power plant fuel to generate electricity.
  • Burning MSW in a WTE power plant can enable a community to reduce the use of a fossil fuel, such as coal, to generate electricity.
  • Using MSW as a fuel also reduces a community's landfill needs by 90%. The environmental impacts of landfilling solid waste are also reduced because the waste has been stabilized by the combustion process and is inert.
  • Using MSW rather than coal significantly reduces the emissions of the following pollutants:
    • Sulfur Dioxide.
    • Nitrogen Oxides
    • Carbon Dioxide
  • Using MSW rather than coal increases the emissions of the following pollutants: dioxins and mercury. However, WTE plants are minor sources of dioxin (1%) and mercury (2%) emissions in the U.S.
  • With respect to dioxin emissions, neither coal-fired power plants or waste-to-energy plants are major sources. Rather, back- yard burning of trash is now the #1 source of dioxin in the United States followed by residential wood burning stoves.
  • With respect to mercury emissions, communities are taking steps to continue to minimize the amount of mercury in the solid waste stream. These steps include the recycling of mercury-containing products, such as fluorescent lamps, thermometers, thermostats, and electrical switches.
  • Using MSW as a power plant fuel also enables a community to avoid the other environmental impacts associated with coal mining and utilization in the areas of water resource use, water discharges, solid waste generation, and land resource use.
  • In terms of overall environmental performance, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has reached the following conclusions about burning MSW as a fuel in WTE power plants to generate electricity:

    “Municipal solid waste is a clean, reliable, renewable source of energy. . . Waste-to-energy plants produce electricity with less environmental impact than almost any other source of electricity.”U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2003.

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