September 24, 2009

Two dilemmas, one incinerator: Northwest fights garbage, finds energy

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Not too long ago, InvestigateWest reported that woody debris was being paraded as a viable source of renewable fuel for the Northwest. But it seems there’s another alternative energy source gaining popularity in the region and it may be even more abundant: garbage.

The Portland Business Journal writes that a $10 million garbage plant in McMinnville, Ore. may be able to generate enough electricity to power 2,500 homes. While the facility will not be finished until next year, the solidiwaste company that developed the technology to convert waste-to-energy already has plans for a second plant in Arlington, Ore.

Vancouver, B.C. has commissioned for a garbage-to-energy incinerator too, promoting the technique as an ideal way to cope with the overwhelming volume of garbage the city receives each year. City officials have recently displayed fierce efforts to curb the amount of waste hitting landfills, heavily promoting composting and recycling with hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the area has seen public opposition to the garbage-to-energy plan, with 65 percent of polled Vancouver residents fearful that waste incinerators will negatively affect air quality, writes Jeff Nagel of BC Local News. The plants are not pollution-free: One hour of incinerator emissions is equivalent to 20 cars traveling two miles, said Dr. Jim Bridges, a toxicology professor who chairs a European Union scientific advisory panel on emerging health risks.  But he believes the levels of cancer-causing dioxins are still minor, at least compared to other sources.

Meanwhile, garbage-disposal rates are declining while recycling rates increase, reported the Oregonian. Some call the shrinking mountain of waste the recession’s “blessing in disguise” as people consume less, and waste less. But what will this mean for a up-and-coming industry reliant upon heaps of consumer trash?

— Natasha Walker

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