GAIA Raises Serious Concerns regarding New York Times Article on Incineration
To the Editor, NY Times
Re: NY Times article: “Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but U.S. Lags”, 4/12/2010
I would like to raise some serious concerns about yesterday's article by Elisabeth Rosenthal: "Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but the U.S. Lags". This piece fails to reference any credible information sources regarding waste incineration and the risk posed by incineration technologies.
Introducing Danish incinerators as "Far cleaner than conventional incinerators..", the article cites the website of Ramboll - a Danish incinerator vendor, whose public relations department must be delighted by such careless reporting. In covering controversial issues where public interest and industry practices are widely known to be in conflict, I would expect the NY Times to conduct more thorough research to ensure balanced journalism.
The following points address a range of public concern, which Ms. Rosenthal has failed to examine.
For decades the tobacco industry told us that cigarettes were safe. Now the waste incineration industry wants us to believe they are coming clean?
Despite the latest industry spin, there is nothing better about burning garbage today, whether in the U.S. or in Denmark (1). Attempts to peddle “waste to energy” haven’t gained wide acceptance around the world because people are growing increasingly aware that:
1. Incineration poses a serious threat to public health. Burning garbage is a primary source of cancer-causing dioxins and other pollutants that enter the food supply and concentrate up through the food chain. Installing of scrubbers and filters to reduce the smokestack emissions only serves to increase the amount of residual fly ash that needs to be disposed in landfills, contaminating groundwater and generating similar risk.
2. Incineration produces more carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of electricity generated than coal power plants (2). Current atmospheric carbon loads cannot safely bear additional emissions from incinerators and landfills. Howevere, zero waste practices such as recycling and composting has the potential of mitigating up to 42 % of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Incineration represents a massive waste of energy. Due to its low calorific value, burning garbage to produce energy is highly inefficient (3). Conversely, recycling recovers three to five times more energy than incineration produces.
4. Incineration creates an economic burden for communities. Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent subsidizing the construction and operations of incinerators. For a fraction of this cost, investments in recycle, reuse and remanufacture, create significantly more business and employment opportunity.
5. Incineration represents the destruction of valuable resources and jobs. Zero waste practices create over 10 times the number of jobs than burning or burying the same waste. Over ninety per cent of municipal solid waste in the U.S. can be recycled, re-used or composted, to create thousands of long-term, family-supporting jobs and community resilience.
As part of their marketing efforts, incinerator industry lobby groups have even recruited the same “expert” witnesses that once testified for the tobacco industry. Fortunately, citizen groups today are not easily deceived by such masquerades and are familiar with the real solutions.
The next time the NY Times looks at gleaning information from industry websites, I would encourage your colleagues to diligently question the source.
For more information on waste incineration and the latest reports on the economic, public health and environmental risk associated with incinerator technologies, please check our website or contact me directly.
Ananda Lee Tan
North American Program Coordinator
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives
1958 University Avenue, Berkeley, Ca 94703
Phone: +1 510 883 9490 Ext 102
1. According to Eurostat in 2007, Denmark produces the highest waste per capita (over 1762 lbs. per person each year) in the EU – clearly an unsustainable level of waste generation. Additionally, over 80 % of what is burned in Danish incinerators is recyclable/compostable.
3. State of the art incineration plants in Denmark achieve only 25% energy efficiency with heat and power