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JLeslie's avatar

What do you think about switching from garbage recycling to incinerating?

Asked by JLeslie (61535points) July 4th, 2020

My community/city is switching from separating out recyclables to putting everything in the trash. We will now be using a Covanta facility. You can watch the animated video to get an idea of the process. The way I understand it the garbage is basically incinerated and the energy produced in the process is sold to local utility companies for electricity, and metals leftover are recycled.

It looks like a good process to me, but I am assuming there must be some negatives. I am curious to know if you have an objection to the process, and what concerns you. The only negative I can come up with is we might be cutting down more trees. Also, if processing new plastics creates pollution, or more pollution than recycling, then that would be bad too, but I have no idea about that process.

What do you think?

It’s certainly easier to just throw everything into one trash container.

Here are some additional videos from the website if you are interested.

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17 Answers

stanleybmanly's avatar

And the exhaust products from such combustion, the toxic products belched into the air?

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Planeteer Alert from Captain Planet – Recycle Incinerating garbage is a short cut. I’m against it. I am on side with @stanleybmanly

Dutchess_lll's avatar

Well if they can render nuclear waste safe then surely they could do the same with the trash.

canidmajor's avatar

When did they render nuclear waste safe?

elbanditoroso's avatar

That’s how it was done for decades before recycling. There would be municipal incinerators that would burn all the trash. Somewhere in the 1970s, the environmental movement vegan to push against it because of all the pollutants being released.

see website and documents

It’s a horrible idea.

JLeslie's avatar


The video makes it seem like all of the “air” pollution is contained.

As a child I lived in NY and the buildings incinerated the trash. I assume some buildings still do it, I don’t know.

China isn’t buying our recyclables anymore, so it is creating a big problem. We already have big land fills in Florida, and I assume around the country.

I assume it is a money thing. Recycling isn’t cost effective in some cases.

Even worse, I think covid is maybe causing more packaging. I just saw a special about farms, and one thing a farmer said was people feel the packaged greens are safer. Plus, with less going to restaurants and more being sold to individuals at supermarkets that’s more packaging.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Really you would be better off just burning coal. Put it in the landfill, we can go back and get these resources later and there is plenty of space.

kritiper's avatar

It’s not easy to burn wet garbage. Dry trash and wet garbage would have to be separated.

LuckyGuy's avatar

In the early 80s Monroe County NY worked on a system with Rochester Gas and Electric to burn trash in one of their coal fueled boilers.
The waste facility would seperate the trash into different streams, and ultimately produced a supply of RDF, refuse derived fuel, that RG&E would burn.
It was a disaster. The RDF had small bits of glass dust that passed through the filters and sort process. That dust melted in the boiler and coated the boiler surfaces with glass. It cost a fortune to clean off They stopped taking the RDF and ended up land-filling it.
I know someone who worked in that boiler to clean it out. It was an expensive HAZMAT job.

I don’t now how they intended to handle the air pollution.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I wonder how many tons of toxic emissions could be reduced if packaging were specifically optimized for burning.

jca2's avatar

Looking at the site provided by @JLeslie, it’s “not your grandfather’s incinerator.”

Here’s the link:

I think it’s a good thing. They say 90% of plastics are not recycled – not sure if that statistic is US only or worldwide. I know where I live, and probably most recycling places, if plastics have grease in them, like mayonnaise jars, the recycling center can’t take it. If there’s grease on cardboard, for example greasy pizza boxes, they say they can’t take them. If people take their water bottles and other recyclables and throw them in the garbage anyway, like a lot of people and places do, then the stuff isn’t going to a recycling enter anyhow. I see people having parties with plastic tableware and plastic containers of food and from bakery cakes from supermarkets and after the party, it all goes in the garbage. At work, so many people throw their water bottles into the garbage. I remember asking a question here on Fluther, a number of years ago, about fast food places like McDonalds not using recycling. All the plastic cups from McD’s, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, etc. all go in the garbage.

If the process in the link provided by @JLeslie can take it all, and not put pollutants into the air, then it’s a good thing.

Pandora's avatar

@JLeslie I also lived in NYC when everything was incinerated. Our garbage wasn’t largely plastic. Mostly it was food and brown paper garbage bags and old clothing. Large items were taken out to the side where it was removed by city or building managers. And still I remember foggy day on a clear sky day, and tons of black soot on our window sills that we could clean weekly and look filthy in less than a week. Now imagine how much of that gets into people lungs. Now throw it all the electronic of today and what do you think will happen to our air? People complain about smoking and this is probably 100 times worse. Back then there were also milk cartons made of like the half gallons and soda was in glass bottles which you could sell back for 5 cents to the grocery stores. Water was from the tap and our groceries were in paper bags. Now everything is in plastic. Tons of plastic bottles and tons of plastic bags. I didn’t know what clean air was till I left NYC. I think if they have a way to filter out the soot and chemicals so it doesn’t go in the air than fine. But if they are burning with no safe guards then no.

Dutchess_lll's avatar

Oh it drives me crazy too Jca2. How casually and carelessly people put stuff in the trash bound for the landfill.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pandora Did you watch the video? I don’t think the smoke is just going up the chimney. It’s self contained. The other choice is landfills, or our country needs to create more recycling plants. A lot put in recycle is trashed anyway because it’s not cleaned out properly.

Hopefully, people are trying to reduce plastic use, although in the last 6 months I have increased plastic use unfortunately.

Pandora's avatar

@JLeslie I would still want to actually have environmentalists weigh in on the process. I have a hard time believing large companies. So many things today fix one thing and destroy 10. Like all these processes they use to clean the air. What happens to their waste?

JLeslie's avatar

@Pandora I absolutely agree. That’s why I asked the question. Right now the waste is going in landfills. I’m hoping this Covanta process is better than that, but I don’t really know for sure.

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