Waste to Energy as an Environmental Approach

Long Island communities have two choices when deciding how their garbage should be processed. They can send these materials to a landfill or take a stand against climate change and do something sustainable with their waste by converting it into renewable energy through the Waste-to-Energy process. Seems like a no-brainer, but did you know this process has been serving many Long Island neighborhoods for three decades?

A leader in sustainable waste management, Covanta operates four Waste-to-Energy facilities on Long Island that take non-hazardous waste which remains after recycling – otherwise destined for landfill – and combusts it in specially-designed boilers. The heat from the combustion process generates steam and drives turbine generators to make energy, providing electricity to area homes and businesses. Ash is processed to recover metal for recycling while all gases are collected, filtered and cleaned before being released safely into the atmosphere. For every ton of municipal solid waste processed at a Waste-to-Energy facility, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by an average of one ton. This is due to the avoidance of methane from landfills, the offset of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel electrical production and the recovery of metals for recycling.

About 140 million tons of waste still go to landfills each year in the United States. This is a startling number, especially since so many Americans are striving to protect our environment for future generations. Simply put, landfills are detrimental to our planet’s health. In fact, waste in a landfill can degrade there for 100 years or more. Additionally, during a landfill’s lifetime it can emit 170 different air pollutants into the air we breathe, yet landfills are minimally regulated. Don’t just take our word for it: according to both the U.S. EPA and the European Union waste hierarchy, the preferred method to deal with waste after recycling is Waste-to-Energy.

A cornerstone of the community, Covanta Hempstead demonstrates the foresight the town’s leaders had 30 years ago in implementing a different kind of waste management system. Over three decades of operation, the Waste-to-Energy facility has generated 15 million megawatt hours of clean electricity, enough to power 1.5 million homes for one year. It has also reduced greenhouse gases by over 18 million tons, saved more than 200 acres of land that would’ve otherwise been used for landfills, and prevented nearly 3 million truck trips on Long Island highways – something all Long Islanders can rejoice over.

This is but a piece of the many great benefits Waste-to-Energy facilities bring to the communities where they operate. Covanta is proud to serve Long Island and is committed to building a sustainable future through the choices we make today.

Submitted by LIMBA members:

Ed Sandkuhl/Facility Manager
Maureen Early/Community Affairs Specialist