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Environmentalists for Incinerators July 13, 2009

Posted by federalist in Energy.
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I recently pointed to a report showing that incinerating biomass is at least twice as efficient at producing energy as trying to first convert it to ethanol and then burning the ethanol.  Furthermore, biomass incineration is a mature and versatile technology whereas ethanol can presently only be produced in scale from food.

This month’s Power magazine reminds us that “waste-to-energy” trash incineration is also an environmentally advantageous and mature technology.  It notes that trash incinerators already process 14% of municipal solid waste.  With current technology toxic emissions are negligible and environmental benefits are sundry:

  • Incinerated trash requires only one tenth the landfill space of the raw trash.
  • Metals can be more readily recycled from incinerator dross.
  • If you are a global warmist: Incinerating municipal solid waste emits only one third as much CO2 as coal (to produce the same amount of electricity).  Also, incinerated waste does not produce methane, the potent greenhouse gas released during the decomposition of raw waste.

Long-term I still have my hopes on plasma waste conversion.  But until then this country is still producing at least 200 million tons of solid waste a year that could be burned for energy instead of buried to rot.

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Californians strain at a gnat… December 14, 2016

Posted by federalist in Government Regulation.
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Two years ago the California government enacted a 4000-word law to essentially ban retail stores from providing single-use plastic bags, and requiring them to charge customers at least $.10/bag should they desire recycled paper bags to carry purchased goods.

Last month this law was sustained in a referendum (Proposition 67).

California is a peculiar state, but in reviewing the background of this law I found essentially three arguments:


  1. Plastic bags produce unsightly litter. (Never mind that littering is already a crime in California.)

  2. Plastic bags “harm or kill wildlife.” Lots of things, natural and artificial, harm and kill wildlife. I’ve never seen a wild animal killed by a plastic bag, and I don’t know how that would happen; nevertheless, I’ll concede it as a possibility. But anecdotal photos of animals with litter don’t make this argument. Where do wildlife management scientists rank plastic bags on the list of threats to animals? E.g., above or below lightning strikes?

  3. Plastic bags are produced from “petroleum” (actually, mostly natural gas) and hence are not “environmentally sustainable.” First of all, bag-grade plastics can be produced from all sorts of “renewable” plant-sourced polymers. Second of all, even if they are all produced from “fossil fuels,” they could still be the most efficient use of those resources. Presumably, people have to carry their groceries in something. What do they use, and what do those things cost to produce and maintain? (Or what are the sanitary costs if they aren’t maintained?)

California is straining at a gnat while swallowing camels on all these matters. If the concern is “wasting” petroleum and creating trash, why not step up enforcement of existing litter laws and build waste-to-energy plants? That would recover vastly larger quantities of litter and energy than this disproportionate focus on one consumer item.

Trash: The Other Renewable Fuel April 14, 2010

Posted by federalist in Energy.
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State-of-the-art incinerators are so clean and efficient that many environmentalists are advocating for them. The NYTimes discovers that even Europeans like them!

A 2009 EPA study “concluded that waste-to-energy plants produced lower levels of pollutants than the best landfills did, but nine times the energy.” Of course overwhelming arguments like that never stopped fringe/NIMBY wackos. In its otherwise positive article on waste-to-energy plants the NYTimes found a group that has “vigorously opposed building a plant in New York City.”

“Incinerators are really the devil,” said Laura Haight, a senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Plasma Waste Conversion June 16, 2008

Posted by federalist in Energy.
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Better than an incinerator: Plasma conversion turns any waste stream into glass and elemental gas. In the case of carbonaceous materials, which includes the bulk of what we call “trash,” the process can also produce a surplus of energy. I.e., rather than trucking trash to a dump, we can convert it into synthetic gas, electricity, and vitrified gravel.

(Solid plasma waste still contains any radioactive isotopes or heavy metals in the original waste stream, so it doesn’t eliminate nuclear waste. But at least any toxic metals are locked away in glassy slag instead of slowly leaching out of a rotting landfill. Or, as this patent application suggests, we might go one better and process the plasma before cooling to recover refined high-value metals.)

Popular Science did an article on this last year — excerpts below the fold:

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