MSW Management

More People are Learning What We Already Know

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It hasn’t been news to the waste and recycling industries for more than a year. I’m talking about the effects the China Waste Ban has been having on our domestic recycling processes. As we continue to meet the ongoing challenges of the restrictions, an increasing number of people in the general public are learning about the situation simply by observing changes in their home towns.

Managing municipal solid waste is more than landfilling: publicity, education, engineering, long-term planning, and landfill gas waste-to-energy are specialties needed in today’s complex environment. We’ve created a handy infographic featuring 6 tips to improve landfill management and achieve excellence in operations.  6 Tips for Excellence in Landfill Operations. Download it now!

A recent photo essay and article in The Guardian tells the story of Chester, PA. It’s a town outside of Philadelphia that is increasingly becoming concerned about pollution and air quality. There’s been increased activity at a nearby incinerator.

According to The Guardian:

The conscientious citizens of Philadelphia continue to put their pizza boxes, plastic bottles, yoghurt containers and other items into recycling bins.

But in the past three months, half of these recyclables have been loaded on to trucks, taken to a hulking incineration facility and burned, according to the city’s government.

It’s a situation being replicated across the US as cities struggle to adapt to a recent ban by China on the import of items intended for reuse.

The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and Latino communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.

About 200 tons of recycling material is sent to the huge Covanta incinerator in Chester City, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, every day since China’s import ban came into practice last year, the company says.

Apparently, the incinerator also brings in waste and recyclables from New York, Ohio, and other states. Residents in Chester say one of their major concerns is the already questionable health of their children.

The Guardian reports:

“People in Chester feel hopeless—all they want is for their kids to get out, escape. Why should we be expendable? Why should this place have to be burdened by people’s trash and shit?”

Some experts worry that burning plastic recycling will create a new fog of dioxins that will worsen an already alarming health situation in Chester. Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher, according to state health statistics.

From the very beginning, waste services has been about preserving the health and safety of the community. Is this a step backward?

I’m attending SWANApalooza 2019 in Boston, MA. As we continue our discussions and pass around ideas and listen for breakthroughs on how to deal with the current realities, in the back of my mind a clock is ticking. MSW_bug_web

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  1. Wow, this is supposed to be a scientific discussion board. Why would you reprint the guardians comments? They know as well as anyone that correlation is not causation. Printing the statistics about elevated rates of diseases in the surrounding area insinuates that the incinerator is the sole cause of the elevated rates when it may not even be a contributing factor. I am not saying it is or is not a contributing factor, but I am saying that you presented no evidence that it is or is not a factor, but lead your reader to the conclusion that it is the only factor and so must be the cause.

  2. I always enjoy your industry insights in the MSW Editor’s Blog, so I am surprised you left this article with such a one-sided and misleading impression. As an energy engineer familiar with Waste to Energy (WTE) technology, my immediate question was whether adding 200 tpd of recycling material to an existing MSW stream is significant. This WTE plant’s capacity is 3,500 tpd of material already being burned since 1992, so the recycled material is less than 6% of the MSW volume processed. Covanta points out in a response to the Guardian article ( that they still are meeting the same, strict air emissions limits. So this incremental waste actually makes no difference. EPA worked with all WTE plants over the past 2 decades to require advanced pollution controls and emission reductions. Likely this plant is cleaner today than when it started.

    I also question the term “incinerator” as the plant has fires MSW in boilers producing valuable steam and electricity. As you are well aware, prudent MSW strategy today has many elements, including recycling and energy recovery, to minimize landfilled material.

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