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Resource Guide

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Table of Contents

PPRG Contents

Major Topic Sections

Fossil-fueled Power
Non-Fossil Generation
End-Use Efficiency
Electricity T&D
Carbon Sequestration
Non-CO2 Reductions
Other GHG Reductions

Related topics in this section

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Nuclear Energy
Wind Power
Solar Thermal Elec.
Biomass Power
Geothermal Energy
Pumped Storage
Green Pricing
Green Tag Pgms.


 Waste-to-Energy Power


The nation's municipal solid waste (MSW) - the garbage and refuse from households, commercial buildings, and institutions, (e.g., schools and hospitals) - is a renewable source of energy that could provide low-carbon energy, potentially replacing fossil fuels. In 2008, Americans generated about 250 million tons of trash and recycled and composted 83 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 33.2 percent recycling rate. On average, we recycled and composted 1.5 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.5 pounds per person per day.


Across the country, many communities, businesses, and individuals have found creative ways to reduce and better manage MSW through a coordinated mix of practices that includes source reduction, recycling (including composting), and disposal. Source reduction involves altering the design, manufacture, or use of products and materials to reduce the amount and toxicity of what gets thrown away. Recycling diverts items, such as paper, glass, plastic, and metals, from the waste stream. These materials are sorted, collected, and processed and then manufactured, sold, and bought as new products. Composting decomposes organic waste, such as food scraps and yard trimmings, with microorganisms (mainly bacteria and fungi), producing a humus-like substance.

According to the Integrated Waste Services Association (IWSA), the 89 waste-to-energy plants nationwide dispose of more than 90,000 tons of trash each day while generating enough clean energy to supply electricity to about 2.3 million homes nationwide.

In addition, the billions of tons of wastes currently buried in municipal landfills is biologically decaying and releasing large quantities of the greenhouse gas methane. The Argonne National Laboratory has estimated that at least some of this methane could be practicably recovered and converted into electricity. The U.S. EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) is an assistance and partnership program that promotes the use of landfill gas as a renewable, green energy source.

To reduce waste volume, local governments or private operators can implement a controlled burning process called combustion or incineration. In addition to minimizing volume, combustors, when properly equipped, can convert water into steam to fuel heating systems or generate electricity. Burning MSW can generate energy while reducing the amount of waste by up to 90 percent in volume and 75 percent in weight.

MSW may be also processed to yield a higher Btu, lower ash, refuse-derived fuel (RDF) which can be used in variety of boilers.

For other options related to waste fuels, see the sections of the PPRG describing Coal Mine Methane Recovery, Landfill Methane Energy Recovery, and Animal Waste Methane Energy Recovery.

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 Power Partners Projects

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 References, Sources, and Other Useful Data

ABB Group, "Waste to Energy Plants"

ABB is a global leader in power and automation technologies, including solutions applicable to Waste to Energy plants. The ABB Integration Experts can combine these solutions with innovative products creating complete power plant systems including instrumentation, control and electrical equipment.

Environmental Protection Agency, “Municipal Solid Waste”

This Web site contains extensive information on MSW, including an overview of MSW management, key facts about the U.S. MSW stream, information on MSW source reduction, recycling, and composting, and MSW combustion and landfilling.

Environmental Protection Agency, “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008"

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has collected and reported data on the generation and disposal of waste in the United States for more than 30 years. EPA uses this information to measure the success of waste reduction and recycling programs across the country. These facts and figures are current through calendar year 2008.

Environmental Protection Agency, “Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP)”

LMOP is an assistance and partnership program that promotes the use of landfill gas as a renewable, green energy source. LMOP helps businesses, states, energy providers, and communities protect the environment and build a sustainable future through the development of landfill gas energy projects.

Integrated Waste Services Association (IWSA), "Waste-to-Energy"

The Integrated Waste Services Association (IWSA) was formed in 1991 to promote integrated solutions to municipal solid waste management challenges. IWSA encourages the use of waste-to-energy technology as an integral component of a comprehensive, integrated solid waste management program. Through the combustion of everyday household trash in facilities with state-of-the-art environmental controls, IWSA’s members provide viable alternatives to communities that would otherwise have no alternative but to buy power from conventional power plants and dispose of their trash in landfills.

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Last revised: Dec. 11, 2009.