“Burn baby, burn” is an old chant for a new generation of Americans who can’t be bothered to put a bottle or two in a blue bin instead of a brown one. Americans produce 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day – more than the population of any other country – and communities across the country are now looking into waste-to-energy incinerators as the only option for getting rid of the multiplying mounds of trash.
Although they are classified as renewable energy by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), incinerators are one of the least green options available for trash disposal. Burning trash at any level, particularly the commercial one, releases toxins into the air, including mercury and dioxin. For communities that are already overloaded with environmental toxins, such as the proposed site of a $1 billion waste-to-energy incinerator in Baltimore, the projects will add even more. According to the New York Times, the Curtis Bay region in Baltimore where an incinerator might be placed already has a coal plant that distributes black dust over the streets and into homes, as well as a fertilizer plant, fuel depots, one of the country’s largest medical waste incinerators, and an open-air compost site.
“The proposed facility would be allowed to emit up to 240 pounds of mercury and 1,000 pounds of lead annually in a neighborhood with three schools and high rates of cancer and asthma.” Baltimore currently has the highest emissions-related mortality rate in the country, according to a study by MIT. One billion dollars would surely go a long way toward cleaning up that area and eliminating toxic emissions, instead of increasing them.
In West Palm Beach, Florida, a new commercial waste-to-energy incinerator is scheduled to go online soon; the first of its kind in over 20 years. In an article for the New York Times, “Donna Harrison, 51, who bought a $64,000 house in Curtis Bay with her husband in 2010, said she often saw dead birds on the street. And she spoke of a smell she described as being ‘like road kill all blended up and someone took the lid off.’”
“We thought about selling our house, but it’s not feasible,” she said. “And now an incinerator? For the love of God. And not just an incinerator, but the biggest damn incinerator in the United States. I feel I’ve taken my $64,000 and burned it.”