Tag Archives: waste to energy

Top 4 Waste to Energy Facilities

Garbage is trashy, we get it. But not anymore.

Waste-to-energy is an innovative way to think about waste management and energy diversification. Ranjith Annepu, founder of the nonprofit ‘be Waste Wise,’ commented on how public perception of this energy source could be altered.

“I think change comes with new generations and increased availability of information and public dialogue,” Annepu said.

The following waste-to-energy facilities generate energy from municipal solid waste, the kind we throw away in our garbage cans every day. Not only are these power plants utilizing this resource, they’re doing it in style.


Photo by David Castor
  1. Sysav South Scania waste-to-energy facility in Malmö, Sweden

This waste-to-energy plant is the most energy efficient plant in Sweden and one of the most carbon-friendly plants in Europe.

The plant creates electricity and heat with waste from 500,000 citizens, and it’s used to sort, store, and recycle waste. The facility processes household, commercial, and hazardous wastes.


Visulalization of the future Waste-to-energy facility by Beauty & the Bit and Ginsun Design
  1. Waste-to-energy facility in Shenzhen, China

China plans to build the world’s largest waste-to-energy plant in the world, with construction set to end in 2020.

The facility will turn a third of Shenzhen’s trash into energy, processing 5,000 tons a day. The plant hopes to combat the large landfills and illegal dumps building up in the area.

The plant’s best feature is on-site renewable energy generation. Two-thirds of the facilities large rooftop will be covered in photovoltaic solar panels.

The facility will also feature a landscaped park and ramped walkway. The walkway offers visitors a look at the inside of the facility and access to a rooftop viewing platform.



  1. Spittelau Incineration Plant

Built in 1971, a fire ironically destroyed major sections of the plant in 1987. When it was rebuilt, the new Spittelau was designed by environmentalist and artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser as a work of art.

The plant now stands as a Viennese landmark, featuring an abstractly painted building, golden ball on its chimney, and green roof. By providing district heating and electricity to Vienna, the plant heats more than 60,000 households a year.

Photo by Amager Resource Center
  1. Waste-to-energy facility in Copenhagen, Denmark

If you ever take a trip to Copenhagen in the winter months, make sure to go skiing: on top of this waste-to-energy facility.

Due to finish construction in 2017, skiers at this site will be skiing on the roof of the energy plant. And that’s not all the facility features.

For every ton of CO2 burned, the power plant will emit a giant ring of steam into the sky. The smoke rings are a completely non-toxic representation of the toxic CO2 it emits.

This serves as a visible reminder of the plant’s environmental footprint and a tangible measurement of citizens’ waste habits. As citizens become more conscious of their waste habits and recycle, they will see less rings.


Waste What: My Own Personal Landfill

We all know what trash is like- ugly, smelly, and dirty. So why on earth would I chose to carry it around with me for a day?

The minute we dump garbage into a trashcan, we are helping to creating a physical landfill. Out of sight, out of mind, right? This doesn’t have to be the case.

By carrying around my garbage for a day, I hoped to become more conscious of my waste habits. Follow along with my journal entries to discover just what exactly we throw into the can and where that trash can go.


7:30am: First things first, I need to find my mobile trash can. Luckily I’m able to put this grocery bag into reuse.


8:30am: I just created my first waste for the day. The remnants of breakfast- a banana peel and yogurt container!

9:00am: So I realized the banana peel smells, and I get to carry around that with me too. Cool.

12:50pm: After eating a salad for lunch, I now have my second source of waste for the day. I wasn’t hungry enough to finish the whole thing, so I have now added a plastic take-out box and soggy lettuce leaves to the bin.

2:15pm: Someone just asked me why I’m carrying around an old banana, as they preceded to crinkle their nose in my general direction. Looks like I’ve become a trash can too.

My personal mobile trash can

4:10pm: Documenting my most recent trash update. I did a little bit of cleaning in my pantry, so an old cereal box and two granola bar boxes are now being carried with me.

4:45pm: Went to Sugarland and got gelato, so a small plastic bowl and spoon is added to my bag. I actually accidentally tossed this into the trash can, so fishing it back out got me a few weird looks. I never realized that throwing trash away is such compulsive behavior. We really don’t give our waste habits a second thought

6:30pm:  I was starving for dinner, so no food waste here. Luckily the restaurant will be washing their bowl, cup, and silverware for reuse. Unfortunately they did print a receipt, so that was added to the bag.


9:00pm: Status update- just finished off a gallon of lemonade!


11:15pm: Just did some homework, so I’ve added old scrap paper and a mechanical pencil. I’ve concluded that this should be all of the trash I will be generating for the day. At least I hope so, otherwise I might need another bag soon. Let’s see how this breaks down:


The best way to manage trash is as follows: reduce, reuse, recycle or compost, create energy, and finally, landfill.

When considering their own habits, consumers should recognize that reducing consumption is the best way to manage their waste. Landfilling should be the last possible option consumers should consider.

The first pile to the far left includes materials that should be sorted and composted- the banana peel, salad, and organic nut bar. The salad container should then be recycled, and the bar’s packaging sent to the second pile.

This second pile includes trash that can be used in a waste-to-energy facility- old paper, bags, etc. However, this trash would first be sorted by the facility. They would ensure no harmful plastics and other materials that would create unsafe air pollution are used in generation.

The final pile includes broken down cardboard boxes, a gallon jug, yogurt container, and magazine. These items should be recycled so their materials can be put into further use.



FAQ: Waste to Energy?

The trash we create every day is a resource that sits idly in landfills, generating methane emissions and seeping into the ground.

But what if this waste could be used for something useful?

Waste-to-energy is an alternative to traditional waste management. Many countries around the world have begun to turn to waste as a source of energy creation.


How does waste-to-energy work?

The most common process involves burning waste to create energy. This trash is referred to as a municipal solid waste source.

Trash enters a plant, is sorted, and stored until use. Waste-to-energy (WTE) plants remove hazardous and recyclable materials before burning.

Trash is added to boilers, where combustion creates a heat or electricity product. The ash by-product, if clean enough, can be used a raw material in other industrial processes, as in road construction.



Doesn’t that create an air pollution problem?

Like any other power producing plant, waste-to-energy plants generate carbon dioxide emissions. However, these facilities can actually help reduce CO2 emissions.

Ramesh Shankar from University of North Carolina at Charlotte, shared his thoughts on the matter.

“[Waste-to-energy facilities] produce less CO2 per megawatt hour than coal, oil, and natural gas.”

In addition, these facilities help avoid harmful effects of landfills. When trash is sent to landfills, during decomposition it produces methane. This greenhouse gas is a much more potent heat-trapping agent than carbon dioxide.

Waste-to-energy facilities can also help avoid issues of land use. In major cities, finding room for landfills can become a concern. Toxic chemicals from landfills can leak into the ground and contaminate ground water supply.

Morton Barlaz, Head of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering at North Carolina State University also addressed air pollution concerns.

Baralz stated that “Modern waste to energy combustion facilities have state-of-the-art pollution control and I consider them to be a clean source of energy.”


 What does the current marketplace look like for waste-to-energy?

Waste-to-energy is being increasingly considered as a way to diversify energy generation. As many countries attempt to reduce coal use to fight climate change, alternative options are considered.

According to political standards, some countries have more incentive to invest in waste-to-energy generation.

Shankar stated that “Some countries have the cost of CO2 factored in their system so that it incentivizes non- or less-carbon emissions.”

Shankar explained these countries may also be more socially responsible, depending on the amount of available land and a commitment to conservation. He commented that Scandinavian counties seem to be at the forefront of waste management.

“Sweden has to import trash because they are so efficient in disposing their own,” he said.

Sweden is the current leader in waste-to-energy production, with over 99 percent of all household waste avoiding landfills. Western and Northern Europe, Japan, Taiwan, and the USA also remain leaders in solid waste management.


So, the environmental and economic impacts outweigh the costs?

It depends.

Ranjith Annepu, founder of the nonprofit ‘be Waste Wise,’ explained an important factor is local conditions.

“For example, if the organic percent of the waste stream is higher than 50%, then WTE is not suitable,” he said.

Annepu also explained that feasibility depends on regulations and tariff fees for electricity in place.

Blair Pollock, Solid Waste Planner at Orange County, North Carolina, cautioned against waste-to-energy as the primary management form. When considering waste-to-energy, Pollock said this should not be a substitute for other forms of waste management.

In the waste hierarchy, reduction and recycling measures always come first. This is more energy and pollution efficient than generating energy from trash. He cautioned that waste-to-energy should not be treated as an alternative that would decrease recycling rates.

Pollock also considers two questions key in the waste-to-energy process.

“Have you retrieved most readily recyclable materials and taken out potentially contaminating type fractions?” Pollock said. “And are you burning it in the most efficient and environmentally sound manner possible?”

FAQ: Energizing Waste

How much do we really waste?

In 2013, Americans produced about 254 million tons of municipal solid waste (aka garbage), and recycled about 34.3% of that. That is about 4.4 pounds of garbage per person, per day.

Overall, municipal solid waste is over 60% organic. After recyclables are sorted out of the waste, what is left usually rots in landfills.


Photo: The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Is this a new thing?

The US began burning waste in 1885 and by the mid-20th century, hundreds of incinerators were built to burn waste.

In 1970, the Clean Air Act put new regulations on incinerators, which had been polluting air and water sources.

Still, the practice of burning solid waste grew in the 1980s with more than 15% of waste being burnt in the early 1990s. In the late 1990s, more regulation was put on incinerators to control for mercury and dioxin emissions, causing the shutdown of many incinerators.

How widespread is incinerating waste for electricity?

 In 2013, 86 facilities in the US burned municipal solid waste for energy recovery. These facilities processed over 28 million tons of garbage to produce 2,720 megawatts of power per year. That is about 12% of the total municipal solid waste in the US.

“Burning waste to create energy should be more widespread,” said Nina Luker, a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Trash overflow can be controlled without to many harmful effects, and it seems to be the best option for what to do with our garbage.”

Is there a downside?

Burning waste creates ash, which will eventually go into landfills, and could potentially cause serious environmental problems. The ash is about 5-15% weight and volume of the original waste, so more could be stored. However, if the ash escapes, it would be very bad for air and water quality all around the landfill.


Photo: David Clow

Is incinerating solid waste the only way to get energy from trash?

No! Landfills are the third-larges source of human-created methane in the United States. This methane is a very harmful green house gas, but is now being collected and used for energy. It can be used in internal combustion engines, turbines, micro turbines and fuel cells to create both electricity and thermal energy.

Is electricity generation from waste used internationally?

Yes. In fact, Sweden is one of the world’s biggest success stories, heating 950,000 homes with trash. The Swedes recycle 47% of their waste, use 52% to generate heat, and less than 1% of their garbage ends up in landfills. They have begun to import trash to continue meeting the heating plants’ needs. The Swedish municipal association estimates that 1 ton of imported garbage saves about 1,100 pounds of methane from decomposing in landfills.

“I think the Swedes’ method of recycling and energy creation is a step in the right direction,” said Natalie Briggs, a first year at UNC-CH. “Other contries should soon follow to ensure better energy conservation.”


Photo: Elliott Brown