Top 5 things to know about the energy-from-waste process

An expert answers your questions about sustainable waste management via EfW

Senior Vice President of Covanta 4Recovery L.P. fields questions about the energy-from-waste process.

Editor’s Note: Covanta 4Recovery expert Derek W. Veenhof, senior vice president of Covanta 4Recovery L.P., a subsidiary of Covanta Energy Corp., fields questions about the energy-from-waste process, also called waste-to-energy, and its role in sustainable waste management, as well as dispels some myths about its effects.

Energy from waste diagram
Energy-from-waste uses solid waste as fuel to generate clean, renewable energy. Waste is processed in combustion chambers where heat is converted to steam and sent through a turbine generator to generate electricity.

1. How is energy-from-waste better than what we’re currently doing?

Energy-from-waste is a sustainable waste management alternative to depositing waste in landfills. EfW generates clean, renewable energy that can provide power to the electric grid while reducing the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that otherwise would have been emitted by the waste in landfills. EfW facilities have state-of-the-art air pollution control technology—unlike landfills, which have
uncontrolled air pollution.

2. How does the EfW process tie in with recycling?

EfW—what we call the fourth R (recover)—should be pursued after you implement the first three Rs – reduce, reuse, and recycle. Generally, manufacturers that use EfW facilities have already gone through an extensive process to reduce their waste generation and have exhausted reuse and recycling options. These initiatives are embedded into the culture of their companies.

Incidentally, EfW facilities in North America recycle more than 700,000 tons of metal a year that are typically left in the waste stream after normal curbside recycling has been done. In fact, some manufacturers celebrate their transition from landfill dumping to EfW—creating a zero- or near-zero waste-to-landfill culture that will sustain their businesses over the long haul.

3. What makes the energy produced “renewable”?

We consider EfW-generated energy to be renewable because the fuel (waste) is continually replenished. In addition, the energy recovered by the EfW process eliminates secondary impacts from mining new materials and the combustion of those resources, thereby preserving natural resources.

Notably, the U.S. government—and nearly all states with renewable energy laws—has included EfW within the definition of renewable energy.

4. Isn’t it more sustainable to ship waste to my landfill because it’s local?

Many of our customers have been unclear about whether shipping their waste to a nearly landfill is greener than shipping to a landfill than is farther away. We encourage manufacturers to take a serious look at their current waste management practices. Often haulers provide undersized equipment, which equates to more frequent pickup of small loads and more frequent trips to the local
landfill.

Our in-house equipment specialists work with the waste generator and equipment manufacturers to maximize truck payloads. These sustainable shipping practices result in heavier loads, picked up less frequently, which actually saves fuel, saves resources, and reduces a company’s carbon footprint. This can make EfW a more sustainable choice.

5. What type of materials do you accept?

EfW facilities can process most nonhazardous waste. In response to our industrial and manufacturing customer requests, Covanta has added infrastructure to manage most packaging waste types, including steel drums and liquid waste. With the addition of liquid waste storage tanks and sophisticated direct combustion injection systems, we offer liquid waste and wastewater destruction services that
offer an alternative to landfill and traditional wastewater treatment.

In addition, we accept a range of electronic materials through our subsidiary, ECOvanta, for electronic waste (e-waste) recycling.

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