Covanta is a leader in sustainable materials management providing environmental solutions to businesses and communities across North America. Through its network of facilities and state-of-the-art services, Covanta is a single-source partner in solving today's most complex environmental challenges.
As today’s world demands more sustainable practices due to the mounting impacts of climate change, everyone from regulators to residents are paying closer attention to how waste is handled. This global shift is putting pressure on companies and communities to minimize waste generation, focus on reusing materials already available and leverage them to their fullest benefit.
Here in New Jersey, businesses and communities—like Essex County, Union County and Camden County—have been utilizing Waste-to-Energy technology to do just that. But apart from helping manage NJ’s 5.5 million tons of annual waste, this sustainable solution is benefitting the state in other areas as well.
Waste-to-Energy is internationally recognized as a way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Based on national averages, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that for every one ton of waste processed at a Waste-to-Energy plant, one ton of GHG is avoided.
The EPA’s waste hierarchy ranks various waste management strategies by environmental preference, recognizing Waste-to-Energy as preferable to landfilling. After all, landfills (where approximately 4 million tons of NJ’s waste still goes every year) are considered “super emitters” of methane, a GHG that is 84 times more potent of a climate-warming gas than CO2.
Communities with Waste-to-Energy facilities have a higher recycling rate than the national average—with some reaching over 50 percent.
This is largely due to the transparency that comes with the service. Residents of Waste-to-Energy communities are more aware of how much waste they’re producing, where it ends up and what impacts that waste can leave. In turn, they prioritize more sustainable practices and take greater ownership of their disposal methods, forgoing the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.
More directly, Waste-to-Energy drives metal recovery and reuse. Nationwide, the process enables the annual recycling of more than 700,000 tons of metal– the equivalent amount of steel to build more than seven Golden Gate Bridges. Imagine how much more metal is forever lost to the 250 million of tons of waste that is still being buried in landfills across the U.S. every year.
Waste-to-Energy facilities are resilient sources of baseload energy, meaning they generate their electricity consistently. As a result, they serve as a valuable complement to intermittent renewable resources, such as wind and solar. The facilities are also often built near demand, where power is delivered for distribution to the grid. This proximity reduces the energy losses associated with long-distance transmission of electricity and provides unique opportunities for integration in local community microgrids. The Waste-to-Energy facilities in Newark, Rahway and Camden, for example, contribute enough energy to collectively power about 90 thousand local homes year-round.
Like all combustion processes (e.g., cars, trucks, landfill gas to energy) and nearly all waste management processes (e.g., landfilling, composting, anaerobic digestion, recycling), Waste-to-Energy facilities have air emissions. To minimize emissions and protect human and environmental health, these sites employ a carefully controlled combustion process that is then filtered by sophisticated air pollution control equipment.
Unlike with other disposal methods, emissions are monitored both continuously and with periodic testing. In some cases, like with Covanta’s three NJ facilities, its data is even accessible to the public through each facility’s web page. When visiting, you’ll see that over 99.9 percent of what is coming out of each facility’s stack are normal components of ambient air: such as water vapor, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen. Less than three hundredths of one percent are emissions required to be regulated through statewide air quality permits.
Regarding safety, Waste-to-Energy is ideally suited for the secure disposal of unused and expired prescription medications, preventing drugs from ending up in the wrong hands and preventing them from polluting public water supplies.
This safety-first mentality extends to electronics recycling as well where devices that contain heavy metals or sensitive information must be properly managed, dismantled and disposed of so that they do not pose a threat to the environment, businesses or individuals.
Waste-to-Energy facilities also act as economic engines to the communities they call home. In New Jersey alone, Waste-to-Energy provides 600 local, full-time jobs; $90 million in wages, salaries and benefits; and millions spent in taxes, host fees and the procurement of local goods and services.
To learn more about Waste-to-Energy and how it’s protecting more than just NJ’s tomorrow, visit info.covanta.com/new-jersey