When you take out your trash, do you think about where it ends up? Most of the waste produced on the Fort Lewis College campus goes to a landfill 45 miles away in San Juan County, NM. Waste-related fees add up to $30,000-$35,000 annually, one of the many reasons why Fort Lewis aims to become a zero-waste campus in the future.
On a larger scale, the United States leads the world in both annual waste production and energy consumption. Combined, these factors present a serious issue for the U.S. What if there was some way to solve both problems in one stroke? What if the trash you put into the dumpster could turn into energy? In fact, it can and some places have been doing it since the 1980’s.
My hometown of Syracuse, NY, has been using waste resources to create energy for the city since 1995. The Waste-to-Energy facility takes in garbage from the surrounding area and burns it, using the heat to make electricity. The process dramatically reduces waste and simultaneously produces energy, conveniently solving both issues at once! Up to 990 tons of waste are burned each day, which generates around 35 megawatts (35,000,000 watts) of energy for the surrounding homes. This saves 7,330,000 barrels of oil annually- powering 380,000 homes throughout the year. This is just one of the reasons Syracuse is called the Emerald City.
So why doesn’t every city have one of these facilities? There are some questionable aspects, including, isn’t burning trash dirty and smelly? Actually, the Waste-to-Energy facility operates very cleanly. All of the fumes and smoke from the burning process are thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned before their release into the atmosphere. Air pollution from the plants is still a concern, however. The ashes leftover after burning still must be put into a landfill (but at a 90% smaller volume than the trash would have taken up previously). These ashes are sometimes considered hazardous waste. Lastly, the plants can consume not all waste products; most hazardous waste cannot be burned. However, the pollution concerns are very small and are greatly outweighed by the benefits.
Over one hundred similar facilities currently exist in the U.S., handling fourteen percent of the total waste produced. None exist in Colorado and Florida has the most, with 11 facilities spread throughout the state.
What if Durango had one of these plants? The FLC campus could produce some of its own energy and fulfill the goal of becoming a zero-waste campus. Although such a facility is a huge investment, it could one day create huge benefits for the city of Durango. With enough support, a Waste-to-Energy facility and a more sustainable community could be in Durango’s future.
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By Erica Gilrein