The Heap


After years of virtual dormancy, the waste-to-energy (WTE) sector may be on the verge of something of a renaissance. And, ironically, it is rising environmental concerns that may spark the industry’s rebirth.

More than a decade ago, construction of WTE plants came to a standstill as cheap tipping fees and fuel prices increased the appeal of landfilling waste. The opposition of environmentalists and residents concerned about the plants’ emissions also played an important role in halting the industry’s momentum.

However, in early March, a bipartisan group of 15 U.S. senators sent a letter to Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Senate energy committee, urging him to include WTE in an upcoming bill’s definition of “renewable energy.” The bill would establish a national renewable energy standard. The letter writers include such high-profile legislators as Chuck Schumer of New York, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

“It would only help us meet our clean energy production goals to think broadly abut what types of energy are considered renewable, understanding that stringent environmental standards must remain paramount in any such assessment,” the letter states. (To view the letter, visit the Integrated Waste Services Association’s Web site at

And in a report released in a January, the Geneva-based World Economic Forum listed WTE as one of eight renewable energy sources that will provide a “meaningful contribution” to a “future low-carbon energy system.” (To view the report, called the "Green Investing Report," visit

According to a Wall Street Journal article in late 2008, proposals for new or expanded WTE plants have still met with public opposition due to environmental concerns. However, the industry maintains that the facilities now use much more stringent emission control technologies. If indeed that is the case and enough of the public can be convinced, the WTE industry could be on the verge of playing an invaluable role in tackling the problems of global warming.