1885: The first garbage incinerator in the US is built by the Navy on Governor’s Island. In the same year, the first municipal incinerator is built in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. (Texas Window on State Govt)
1905: New York City begins using a garbage incinerator to generate electricity to light the Williamsburg Bridge. (ASTC)
1909: 102 of 180 incinerators built since 1885 are abandoned or dismantled. Many had been inadequately built or run. America’s abundant land and widely spaced population made dumping garbage cheaper and more practical. (ASTC)
1930’s: The US is running about 700 incinerators, which declines to 265 by 1966 due to emissions and other problems of the unrefined technology. (Texas Window on State Govt)
1948: Robert Moses opens the Fresh Kills dump in Staten Island. It is initially supposed to be open for three years, but operates for over 50 years. (Hughes)
1960’s: The city is burning almost a third of its trash in its 22 municipal incinerators and 2,500 incinerators in apartment buildings. (Martin)
1970’s: Energy shortages lead to government regulation and incentives that encourage the waste-to-energy industry’s growth. (Williams)
The federal government begins funding feasibility studies for local governments interested in setting up new WTE plants.
1978: Congress passes PURPA, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, which allowed WTE plants to charge a higher price. It required the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision to guarantee a market for electricity produced by small power plants, and so benefitted WTE projects. The electricity from WTE plants and other such “qualifying facilities” were o be equal to the utility’s avoided cost of energy and capacity. (Williams)
1980’s: The world begins realizing the toxic effect of dioxins and furans, trace waste products from incineration. Governments begin enacting legislation and regulating allowed levels, and such pollution creates a negative image for incineration that keep some environmental groups still opposed to WTE. (Psuomopoulos)
US price of electricity peaks in the early 80’s and has maintained a relatively low price around 10 cents/kWh onward. The country is endowed with abundant and inexpensive coal and natural gas supplies. (Williams)
1986: The 1986 federal Tax Reform Act simultaneously benefit and harm the development of waste-to-energy facilities. The act extends federal tax credits available for waste-to-energy facilities for ten years, but also repealed the tax-free status of waste-to-energy plants financed with industrial development bonds. (Texas Window on State Govt)
1988: The US permits 7.924 landfills. By 2005, the number is 1,654. (Williams)
The EPA estimates that more than 14,000 landfills have closed since 1978, more than 70% of those operating at that time. The landfills were full, unsafe, or the owners declined to adhere to new standards. (ASTC)
1995: EPA orders waste-to-energy facilities to meet maximum pollution control standards by 2000. This requires the facilities to significantly reduce their emissions of dioxin, mercury, lead, cadmium, hydrochloric acid and particulates. Between that time and the present, EPA estimates that these requirements reduced emissions of dioxins and furans from waste-to-energy plants by more than 99 percent; metals by more than 93 percent; and acid gases by more than 91 percent. (Texas Window on State Govt)
1997: No new incinerators are built in the U.S. after this year. High costs, identified health risks, and public opposition all contribute to their unpopularity. (GAIA)
1999: The city’s last waste incinerator is torn down. It processed at most, 48 tons of medical waste per day. Dismantling it means no incineration in the five boroughs for the first time, says Sanitation Department. (Martin)
2000: Study by the EAC determines PM emission of modern WTE plants to be less than 0.003% as compared to the 1% of municipal incinerators of the past (Themalis)
2001: NYC Government closes the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island. The city turns to out- of-state landfills to ship its trash away. (Hughes)
2004: US WTE facilities generate a net electricity of 13.5 x 10^9 kWh, which is greater than that produced by all renewable resources but hydroelectric and geothermal. (Psuomopuolos)
New York City completed Phase 1 of an evaluation of new and emerging solid waste management conversion technologies to determine if there should be a role for such technologies in the City’s Solid Waste Management Plan, including a review of 43 technologies, categorized by type: thermal, digestion (aerobic and anaerobic), hydrolysis, chemical processing, and mechanical processing for fiber recovery. (NYC Dept of Sanitation)
2005: there are over 430 waste-to-energy plants in Europe burning about 50 million metric tons of waste. This is more than one-and-a-half times the 33.4 million tons of materials the U.S. burned in 2005. (Texas Window on State Govt)
Implementation of EPA Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) Standards have reduced emissions of ceetain hazardous materials (including dioxins and heavy metals) by a factor of almost 100 (Moy)
2006: the SEMASS facility in MA, which runs a RDF (refuse-derived fuel) type process is among the top 10 finalists for the Waste-to-Energy Research and Technology Council. The facility is one of the most successful one of its kind in the US and recovers energy at rate among the world’s best. It also recovers metal at a 90% rate (Psuomopoulos, Williams)
EPA data shows that approximately 90% of materials disposed in U.S. incinerators and landfills are recyclable and compostable materials (GAIA)
2008: San Francisco passes a 4.4 cent/kWh carbon tax, and Montgomery County in Maryland passes its own 5 cent/kWh tax in its locality. There is no national tax. This is in contrast to the carbon tax and other incentives in the European Union, particularly Sweden. Neither does the U.S. have a national landfill tax/fee. (Williams)
According to a study conducted by the Tellus Institute, on a per ton basis, recycling saves more than seven times eCO2 than landfilling, and almost 18 times eCO2 reductions from gasification/pyrolysis facilities. (GAIA)
The study Gasification of refuse derived fuel in a fixed bed reactor for syngas production found that, “There is yet to be a process designed for steam gasification of RDF [Refuse Derived Fuel] that is energy efficient. In most gasification/pyrolysis plants, the energy required to keep the plant running is only slightly less than the amount of energy being produced. (GAIA)
2009: In Sweden, a country that is a world leader in energy recovery, 49% of household waste is converted to energy, while the US converts 12%. (Williams)
A study by the E.P.A. and North Carolina State University chooses waste-to-energy plants over landfills as the most environmentally friendly destination for urban waste that cannot be recycled. (Rosenthal)
San Francisco is on track to achieve Zero Waste by the year 2020. Already, San Francisco is reducing waste by 72 percent through waste prevention, reuse, recycling, and composting. (GAIA)
2012: The NYC Department of Sanitation issues a Request for Proposals for the private sector to build a WTE facility. This is part of Mayor Bloomber’s PlaNYC, in order to process trash that cannot be recycled. (Hughes)
There are currently 87 facilities in the U.S. burning trash to generate electricity. The combined output of these facilities amounts to approximately 2,500 megawatts, or 0.3 of total national power generation, and almost all were built at least 15 years ago. (EPA, Rosenthal)
“City’s Last Waste Incinerator Is Torn Down – New York Times.” New York Times. Web. 19 Mar. 2013.
GAIA and GreenAction. Incinerators in Disguise Case Studies of Gasification, Pyrolysis, and Plasma in Europe, Asia, and the United States (April 2006)
GAIA. Incinerators: Myths vs. Facts (Feb 2012)
Hughes, Bill. “Fiscal Woes, Long-Held Fears Spur Waste-to-Energy Debate.” City Limits News. N.p., 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Kennedy, Christopher, Stephanie Demoullin, and Eugene Mohareb. “Cities reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.” Energy Policy 49 (2012): 774–777. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
Moy, Pearl et al. “Options for Management of Municipal Solid Waste in New York City: A Preliminary Comparison of Health Risks and Policy Implications.” Journal of Environmental Management 87.1 (2008): 73–79. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
“Municipal Waste Combustion.” Energy Report – Window on Texas State Govt. Office of the Texas Comptroller, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
“PlaNYC 2030 – The Plan – Solid Waste.” Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
Psomopoulos, C.S., A. Bourka, and N.J. Themelis. “Waste-to-energy: A Review of the Status and Benefits in USA.” Waste Management 29.5 (2009): 1718–1724. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
Rosenthal, Elisabeth. “Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but U.S. Lags.” The New York Times 12 Apr. 2010. Web. 19 Mar. 2013.
“Rotten Truth (About Garbage): Garbage Timeline.” Rotten Truth (About Garbage): Garbage Timeline. Association of Science-Technology Centers Incorporated, 1998. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
Themelis, Nickolas J., Young Hwan Kim, and Mark H. Brady. “Energy Recovery from New York City Municipal Solid Wastes.” Waste Management & Research 20.3 (2002): 223–233. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
Williams, Matt. “WASTE-TO-ENERGY SUCCESS FACTORS IN SWEDEN AND THE UNITED STATES.” N.p., 2011. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.