Let’s Toss Recycling in the Trash

(This is an editorial that I wrote for my local newspaper in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.)

About 190 million tons of garbage ends up annually in American landfills as an intentional outcome of environmentalism. Without current enviro laws we could eliminate 98% of new landfills. But always remember that most “green” policies actually harm the ecology.

Meanwhile environmentalists have established a wasteful, inefficient and expensive recycling regime for about 75 million tons of material, and have done so for one reason – to shift money, political power and jobs to themselves. The other part of the recycling equation is that we are generally barred by the same environmentalists from disposing of garbage in the most direct and efficient way – by burning it. Yet we could produce huge amounts of electricity by burning all US garbage as the fuel. If you don’t know how it works, look it up on the internet.

I estimate that we could generate up to 90,000 megawatts of electricity (8% of our total installed capacity; a large nuclear reactor is 1,000 megawatts) and eliminate the burning of 125 million tons of coal annually in power plants if we burned our garbage as the fuel instead. This would truly give “value” to trash and would solve our growing landfill problem; eliminate the need to mine, transport and burn that coal; and get the most valuable energy resource of all – electricity – in return for useless garbage. That’s a win-win-win.

By throwing garbage into landfills we are literally throwing away fuel. On the other hand recycling is expensive and cumbersome and involves the processing, handling and transporting over and over of tens of millions of tons of worthless material from empty yogurt containers to newspapers and cardboard. The only reason that recycling appears to make economic sense is because we all are forced to infuse it with large amounts of taxpayer cash, and with our own labor and money (i.e., scrubbing out food containers, paying for the hot water to do so, etc.).

Environmentalists claim that burning garbage pollutes the air, yet we do it in Pittsfield at the Covanta plant on Hubbard Ave. and it works fine. The plant is very efficient. The heat at Covanta primarily makes hot water for Crane Paper Co., and electricity too. The Covanta website says: “The facility processes 240 tons per day of solid waste generated from residential and commercial operations throughout Berkshire County. Annually, the facility produces over 450 million pounds of steam as well as 3.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity used for facility operations. During its long and successful history, the facility has offset the use of 16,000 gallons of oil per day by Crane & Company.”

Awesome. That is a huge amount of energy from our “useless” garbage, and it saves landfill space too. And if we add Berkshire recycling to Covanta – combustible material like newspaper, cardboard and plastic – much more energy could be produced… if environmentalists only would allow it. Indeed the real damage to the environment comes from:

*existing landfills and the creation and maintenance of new landfills, and the transport of garbage to them. New York City ships its garbage 800 miles to a landfill in South Carolina. Garbage trains all over America move smelly trash long distances at enormous cost, energy use and air pollution. This all could be eliminated with a system of local and regional garbage-to-electricity plants all across the US, close to where the garbage is being thrown away.

*recycling itself which is polluting, expensive and inefficient. For instance the trucks that pick up your plastic and metal cans are carrying around 95% air because these materials are recycled without being crushed first. It is very wasteful in both labor and fuel to move millions of truckloads of air every year. Another example: When newspapers are bleached of ink for recycling it produces rivers of toxic sludge.

We should terminate recycling nationwide and burn all garbage. Anything that won’t burn like steel and aluminum cans could be recycled for a profit by private firms. If it can’t be done economically then cans could be crushed and thrown into small landfills. Ditto glass. Significantly we also could begin “mining” the landfills that have been created over the last century for their valuable ‘fuel’, and returning the land under them to a natural state… if environmentalists would only allow it.

Ecologists frequently offer studies that say that garbage burning is economically or environmentally unwise. They say this because they themselves get money, jobs and political power from recycling and they don’t want us to know about the cleaner, cheaper and vastly more productive alternative.

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