Incinerators are toxic to surrounding communities and the climate. Incinerators emit high levels of mercury pollution and ultra-fine particulate matter, one of the most dangerous known pollutants to human health. Trash-burning also emits more carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced than does burning coal.
VICTORY: Students, residents, and advocates successfully defeated Energy Answers’ plan to build the nation’s largest trash-burning incinerator in the Curtis Bay neighborhood of Baltimore in 2016. Click to learn more about the defeated incinerator in the Curtis Bay neighborhood of Baltimore.
What’s wrong with “waste-to-energy incineration”?
The incineration industry has tried to rebrand incineration as “waste-to-energy” in recent years. Unfortunately, trash incineration is currently included in Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard as a Tier 1 renewable energy source.
“Waste-to-energy” (WTE) incinerators are a far cry from being a clean, renewable energy source. Aside from the plant’s frighteningly high mercury emissions, it could also release ultra-fine particulate matter, one of the most dangerous known pollutants to human health. Installing even the most cutting-edge pollution control technology does not eliminate toxins – it can only collect them into concentrated forms that must be land-filled. Also, waste incineration is terrible for climate change: per unit of energy (MWh), trash incineration produces more carbon dioxide than burning coal.
Waste-to-Energy Incineration in Maryland
Proponents of incineration claim that this technology will move Maryland towards “zero-waste,” but this simply isn’t true. Instead, it will create an energy generation process that demands the continued production of trash and the importation of trash from other states – and Maryland citizens will be burdened with the resulting pollution.
Waste incineration also undermines the strong clean energy laws that Maryland already has on the books. The state boasts a robust mandatory renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS), which requires that the state get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2022. This important legislation was passed with the hope of encouraging the development of clean, renewable energy throughout the state. Renewable energy sources are classified using a tiered system, so that the cleanest energy sources count toward the RPS goals more than others. Trash incinerators were classified as a “Tier Two” energy source under Maryland’s RPS until 2011, when new legislation moved incinerators up to “Tier One.”
As a Tier One energy source, burning trash competes with legitimate renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The passage of this bill further paved the way for incinerators to flood Maryland’s RPS, which could ultimately prevent the RPS from doing its job of encouraging development of new sources of truly clean energy like solar or wind power.
Waste-to-Energy Incinerators Proposed for Maryland
Energy Answers is in the process of securing construction permits for a waste-to-energy power plant in Curtis Bay, a community in Baltimore that already ranks near the bottom for air quality in the state. The health of Curtis Bay children will be at risk from air and water pollution from this plant. Thus, it’s vital that the plant’s environmental permits are as strong as legally possible, and in full compliance with all federal and state pollution and public health standards.
- Incinerators: Myths vs. Facts, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)
- Waste & Climate Resources, GAIA
- Stop Trashing the Climate report, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, eco-cycle, GAIA
- Incinerator report from our partners at the Environmental Integrity Project
- Incinerator fact sheet on the Energy Answers incinerator.
- Waste-to-Energy Incineration and the Renewable Portfolio Standard.