ARKANSAS, Nov 12 (Future Headlines)- Florida, facing a surge in population and a scarcity of land, is grappling with a trash management challenge. To address the influx of waste, the state is leaning towards waste-to-energy (WTE) solutions, sparking both support and opposition. This article delves into the mechanics of WTE plants, the environmental implications, and the broader context of waste management in the United States.

WTE plants generate electricity by burning solid waste, utilizing the heat to produce steam that powers electric generator turbines. Modern facilities incorporate air pollution control equipment to adhere to Clean Air Act limits, minimizing emissions and potential health effects.

Over the past decade, WTE plants annually produced approximately 14,000 gigawatt hours, contributing less than 1% of the country’s electricity generation. While WTE facilities control emissions, they do generate greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide. The incineration of municipal waste is estimated to produce 0.7 to 1.2 mg of CO2 per milligram burned.

WTE plants can reduce waste volume by over 80%, leaving behind ash gravel. Research explores potential alternative uses for this byproduct, such as in concrete production. The Energy Protection Agency views controlled waste burning as preferable to landfilling, which poses various environmental risks.

Trash combustion represents a small portion of the U.S. waste management strategy, with landfilling being a more economical option in many regions. Florida, with its population density and limited available land, faces unique challenges, leading to increased reliance on waste combustion.

Florida’s trash generation has surged by 5 million tons annually since 2017. The state currently combusts around 8% of its waste, landfilling approximately 50%, and recycling the remaining portion. Two counties, Pasco and Miami-Dade, have approved plans for WTE facility expansion or construction, with six others considering similar measures.

Despite efforts to manage waste through combustion, landfilling in Florida has increased by around 5 million tons annually since 2017. Residents and advocacy groups express concerns about the health risks associated with WTE facilities, pointing to instances like the Doral trash fire.

Residents fear health risks, especially in communities near existing or planned WTE plants. The Doral trash fire heightened concerns about air pollution, emphasizing the potential health effects of exposure to combustion-related pollutants.

Joe Kilsheimer, Executive Director of the Florida WTE Coalition, emphasizes that public health is a priority for waste directors, asserting that facilities with potential public health risks would not be operated. Kilsheimer views the Doral fire as an anomaly but acknowledges the increasing occurrence of trash fires due to lithium-ion battery disposal.

Americans are prolific waste generators, producing almost five pounds of trash daily on average. Despite an increase in recycling rates, the growing amount of trash poses a significant challenge. The EPA highlights waste prevention as the most effective strategy, emphasizing the need to reduce waste at its source. Consumers express concerns about waste but face challenges in finding sustainable alternatives, underscoring the complexity of waste management.

Reporting by Kevin Wood; Editing by Sarah White