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Align recycling and biomass to energy programs to replace incinerator inputs with local biomass.



Using Massachusetts as an example, we have:

  1. Seven regional municipal waste incinerators that handle over 3,500,000 tons per year of waste, with roughly 250 MW of electrical generation capacity and some CHP.
  2. Assistance for municipalities to increase recycling. Massachusetts is bound by law to reduce waste to 25 percent below 1990 by 2020 levels and 80 percent by 2050.
  3. A sustainable forestry initiative with a goal to use 4,000,000 tons per year of sustainable forest growth to produce energy.
  4. Local biomass including sewage sludge and open space harvesting that could be used for energy generation.


Recycling and municipal waste incineration are somewhat at odds with one another.  Paper and plastic products are major components of waste streams but they also have high energy contents.  If they were optimally removed from the waste stream, there would be little left to burn.  Using 4,000,000 tons per year of sustainable forestry to generate energy would require large capital investment for energy production at several sites around the state.  Both initiatives will take several years to ramp up.

            An alternative path would be to couple the two goals:  Implement higher recycling initiatives and phase in biomass to replace the energy dense material being removed.  This removes the capital cost of new biomass incineration facilities (typically $100,000,000 minimum per facility) and all the time and effort spent in siting and getting community approval of the sites.

Category of the action

Reducing emissions from electric power sector.

What actions do you propose?

  1. At the state level, get buy in from the appropriate agencies: Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, CEC and DOER.
  2. Bring state agency representative together with the municipal waste incinerator operators and create: Covanta and Wheelabrator.  
  3. Work out a joint timeline for increasing municipal recycling with state biomass utilization.
  4. Work out how to redeploy state resources to reach the joint goals.
  5. Work out the economic benefits for the incinerator operators since they will reduce the tipping fees they receive and have to pay for the biomass, but they will get a higher quality, more energy dense fuel.

Who will take these actions?

The actions will be taken by state agencies and incinerator operators.

Where will these actions be taken?

The state of Massachusetts, then continuing to the other 24 states with waste incineration plants.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

            It has been estimated that 58% of today’s municipal solid waste in MA could be easily recycled with today’s technology.  If this were implemented over 2,000,000 tons per year of incinerated waste would be replaced by 2,000,000 tons per year of sustainable forest product incineration in Massachusetts. 

What are other key benefits?

  1. Utilize sustainable biomass for energy without large capital investment in new facilities.
  2. Increase recycling without affecting incinerators.
  3. Reduce tipping fees for municipalities.
  4. Use as a model at other waste to energy plants around the country and world.  In the US, as of 2010, there were 86 waste to energy plants with the capacity to use 97,000 tons per day of municipal solid waste.

What are the proposal’s costs?

            The costs are in personnel time from the various organizations to coordinate the efforts.  The costs of implementing the program would come predominantly from realigning funds for expanding recycling programs and biomass energy programs to the joint goals.

            Potential negative costs are the reduction in revenue for waste to energy plants for reduced tipping fees and increased costs due to paying for biomass.


Time line

            The timeline should be consistent with the state’s recycling goals: reduce waste to 25 percent below 1990 by 2020 levels and 80 percent by 2050.

Related proposals


  1. MA Waste incineration and
  2. MA Recycling Assistance for Municipalities
  3. MA Sustainable Forest Bioenergy Initiative
  4. 2010-2020 Solid Waste Master Plan: A Pathway to Zero Waste
  5. MA recycling