Covanta recently released a White Paper comparing the greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired electricity generation facilities to energy-from-waste (EFW) plants. The White Paper was prepared, partially, to counteract the claims of environmental activists that EFW facilities are “worse than coal.”
The White Paper, in fact, proves that EFW facilities are not only cleaner than coal, but represent an important tool in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) and other emissions from landfills and serve as an important source of carbon mitigation in the process. The White Paper points out that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) recently included EFW as a compliance option in its Clean Power Plan.
The White Paper states that those opposed to EFW due to GHG emissions are wrong on some key facts. Opponents to EFW only look at total stack emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) on a MWh basis without consideration for the difference between biogenic and fossil CO2 emissions. Moreover, EFW opponents also fail to compare CO2 emissions from EFW to other methods of managing waste; namely landfilling. By managing solid wastes concurrently with generating energy, EFW facilities avoid significant landfill emissions of methane, a potent GHG that is 28 to 34 times more potent a GHG than CO2 over 100 years lifespan.
The Covanta White Paper also notes the EFW outperforms coal on other emissions as well. The U.S. EPA found the lifecycle emissions of EFW facilities to be lower on average than those for coal-fired facilities for sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM), even before the benefits of avoided landfill emissions were considered.