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 their frighteningly high mercury emissions, incinerators 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 landfilled. Also, waste incineration is terrible for the climate: per unit of energy (MWh), trash incineration produces more carbon dioxide than burning coal.
Trash-Burning 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 residents will be burdened with the resulting pollution.
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 prevents the RPS from doing its job of encouraging development of new sources of truly clean energy like solar or wind power. That’s why CCAN is committed to removing incineration from the RPS.
Incinerators in Maryland
The BRESCO incinerator operated by Wheelabrator is Baltimore’s biggest air polluter. Reducing local air pollution, and NOx in particular, is critical for public health in Baltimore. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is in the midst of a rulemaking process focused on Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) for NOx emissions at BRESCO. We are working to ensure that MDE issues a strict NOx limit for the BRESCO incinerator in order to limit pollution in our city and protect public health from harmful emissions.
In addition to its high NOx emissions, in 2015, the BRESCO incinerator emitted roughly double the amount of greenhouse gases per megawatt hour of energy than each of the 6 largest coal plants in Maryland. Shockingly, Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard currently classifies incineration as a “Tier 1” renewable energy source, which means that BRESCO receives millions of dollars in subsidies every year. CCAN is committed to cleaning up our RPS and removing incentives for incineration. Removing undeserved subsidies for this polluting facility while tightening its NOx emissions limits will demonstrate that incineration is no longer a viable industry in Maryland and that zero waste is the path toward a healthier population and environment.
- Incinerators: Myths vs. Facts, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) , Next City,
- 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.