The Landfill Disposal Rates of Waste-to-Energy Communities

Publish Date: 2010

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, the SWANA Applied Research Foundation’s (ARF) Waste-to-Energy (WTE) Group identified the issue of documenting the landfill disposal rates of communities with waste-to-energy systems for comparison with other solid waste systems as one of high importance to the group.

In this regard, a new municipal solid waste (MSW) management strategy that is growing in popularity is the "Zero Waste" option. According to the Grass Roots Recycling Network, "Zero Waste is a philosophy and a design principle for the 21st Century. It includes 'recycling' but goes beyond recycling by taking a 'whole system' approach to the vast flow of resources and waste through human society. Zero Waste maximizes recycling, minimizes waste, reduces consumption, and ensures that products are made to be reused, repaired, or recycled back into nature or the marketplace."

MSW management systems that embrace the zero waste philosophy typically rely on materials recycling, food and yard waste composting, and composting or anaerobic digestion of mixed waste to achieve high recycling and waste diversion rates. A key aspect of the zero waste philosophy appears to be the outright rejection of WTE as a possible system component. One city that has embraced the zero waste philosophy is San Francisco, California. As stated on its web site,

"Imagine a world in which nothing goes to the landfills or incinerators. We think it's achievable, and SF Environment is doing everything we can to make it happen in the residential, business and city government sectors, and at special events held throughout the city. Today, San Francisco recovers 72 percent of the materials it discards, bringing the city ever closer to its twin goals of 75 percent landfill diversion by 2010, and bringing the city to zero waste by 2020."

In the past, the WTE industry has conducted numerous studies to document the fact that WTE communities achieve recycling rates that are comparable to or higher than those achieved by communities with robust recycling programs. However, the landfill disposal rates of WTE communities and communities with zero waste and/or aggressive recycling programs have not been documented for comparative purposes.

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