How trash can power your home
Garbage is your new friend. That’s right, the waste that you produce is being used to light and power your home as we speak. This isn’t just the plastic bottles and old cardboard that you remembered to recycle. We’re talking about municipal solid waste (MSW), the stuff that ends up in landfills across the country. So how does trash become energy? Essentially, waste is burned at special power plants called “waste-to-energy” plants. The heat that is generated creates steam, which produces electricity that can now power your house.
How does waste-to-energy work?
Generating electricity in a waste-to-energy plant encompasses five steps:
- Garbage trucks dump the waste into a pit.
- A crane picks up the waste and dumps it into a combustion chamber.
- The waste is burned, generating heat.
- The heat turns the water in the attached boiler into steam.
- The high-pressure steam forces a turbine to spin, producing electricity.
But wait! There’s more: The waste-to-energy system captures harmful air pollutants from the plant’s combustion process before the gas is released via smokestack, which effectively minimizes the plant’s own environmental impact.
Why does waste-to-energy matter?
Burning municipal waste, when executed properly, benefits energy conservation and recycling efforts. Here’s how:
Waste-to-energy plants can cut down on the quantity of the nation’s waste by about 87%.
Not only does burning waste reduce the amount of space required for landfills, but just one ton of waste can power a single household for a month.
In one year, the 71 waste-to-energy plants in the U.S. helped generate nearly 14 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity – enough electricity to power nearly 2.5 million households for a year.
Every ton of waste burned prevents 1 ton of CO2 release. This figure doesn’t even include the additional tons of methane that would have leaked through traditional landfill disposal.
Of the 258 million tons of municipal solid waste produced in the U.S. in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available, only 13% was burned for energy, while 53% was sent to landfills.
Ultimately, for trash that cannot be recycled, burning it at a waste-to-energy plant is not only beneficial to the environment in reducing the amount of trash and CO2 released, but it also is a great – and plentiful – source of clean energy generation.