Mar. 5 -- In a guest column (Nov. 28), Paul Gilman, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer for Covanta Energy Corp., a company that owns and operates waste-to-energy plants, reached out to the composting community by suggesting that they should work together. "The real contest," Gilman said, "should be WTE vs. landfills."
Most industries have their intramural spats and ours is no different. But what gets my dander up is when someone knowingly, or out of sheer ignorance, makes flagrantly false statements about a waste management option, as has Mr. Gilman with respect to landfills.
Specifically, Gilman states that "landfills have no air pollution controls and are subject to minimal regulation and monitoring of air emissions" in contrast to WTE. This is simply is not true. Air emissions at new and existing landfills are regulated by federal rules pursuant to the Federal Clean Air Act, including New Source Performance Standards and Emission Guidelines, and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. These regulations reflect the maximum degree of gas collection and emissions reduction of hazardous air pollutants that is achievable.
Gilman also states that landfills "release more than 170 air pollutants of which 40 are air toxics." This is deceptively misleading. Gilman is correct that methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide ? according to the U.S. EPA, it is 21 times more potent than CO2 ? but what he fails to mention is that landfills effectively control their emissions through the use of landfill gas collection and destruction systems in compliance with federal and state regulations, and that most of the methane and pollutants are destroyed.
The non-methane organic compounds in landfill gas amount to less than 1% of the landfill gas generated. More importantly, the gas combustion units that are used to either destroy the methane or combust it as a renewable fuel destroy the methane and the non-methane organics with efficiencies of 98% or better.
Ironically, Mr. Gilman fails to mention that WTE plants rely on landfills to dispose of their ash and uncombusted waste.
We are undergoing a major conceptual change in how society is looking at both solid waste generation and the most ecologically optimal end-of-life destination for the different fractions in the waste stream. Sustainability, zero waste, waste as a beneficial resource and the many other phrases describing this process are basically recognition that we are moving from a linear model to a circular model of maximizing the most beneficial use of what we call ·waste.ö
But achieving this goal will not be easy and it won?t happen overnight. Until it does happen, both landfills and WTE will continue to play a major and essential role in managing waste safely and protecting public health and the environment.
Bruce J. Parker
President and CEO, Environmental Industry Associations