On Jan. 7, 2018, I attended the Trash Incinerator Forum in Romulus, NY. (A complete video of the forum is here.) The forum began with an introduction by Judith Enck, former head of the EPA Region 2, for the main speaker: Dr. Paul Connett, Professor Emeritus in Environmental Chemistry at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.
BTW: Judith Enck is a hero due to her outspoken criticism of the Pruitt EPA.
What EPA chief Scott Pruitt promised — and what he’s done But Judith Enck, a New York-based regional EPA administrator under former President Barack Obama, said Pruitt’s rhetoric doesn’t match his record. “You can’t have clean air and you can’t have clean water if you’re going to roll back crucial environmental rules and not enforce the rules we have on the book,” said Enck, who recently returned from seeing hurricane damage in the Virgin Islands. “We’ll see the effects very soon.” (11/19/2017, Politico)
There was much in the forum that suggested that installing one of the largest waste incinerators in the USA in a small community between two of the largest of the Finger Lakes (Seneca and Cayuga) was a bad idea. This from the forum’s handout:
“It’s Bad for our Environment: A 260-foot smokestack would emit dangerous air pollutants including: dioxin, lead, mercury, particulates, acid gasses and nitrogen oxides which are a real problem for grape production. To make the same amount of energy, trash incinerations emit 2.5 times as much carbon dioxide than coal power plants. Carbon dioxide is a major cause of climate change. Burning garbage does not eliminate the need for landfills. Just like a wood stove or fire place produces ash after wood burning, burning garbage creates ash that needs to be landfilled. The fly ash is very toxic. Circular energy says they will use the ash to create new products—a bad idea that often does not work. Seneca County is already home to the Seneca Meadows Landfill. Garbage is not a renewable resource and burning garbage is not legally considered a renewable energy source in New York State. Instead, we need companies to invest in real, clear renewable energy projects such as solar, wind, geothermal, small scale hydro and fuel cells and energy efficiency. Clean energy projects create local jobs that do not pollute communities. Rather than burning garbage, we need Zero Waste policies that prioritize was reductions (plastic bag bans, polystyrene bans) recycling, and composting green waste and food waste. These are the strategies that will protect agriculture, tourism and our health. (from Seneca Lake Guardian’s handout “Keep the FLX Beautiful…”)”
As the former chair of the Rochester Sierra Club’s Zero Waste Committee, I’m glad that Dr. Connett took the time to explain critical alternatives to burning waste—Zero Waste. Many regions around the country and the world are gravitating towards eliminating waste altogether by not creating it. Cradle-to-cradle design, where industry takes responsibility for their products from conception to end-of-use, promises to do just that. We need to move towards Zero Waste. We are not going to have a sustainable existence if we encourage the delusion that we can continually buy stuff then throw it in a big hole or burn it.
Communities around the country, desperate for jobs and keen to preserving their healthy environment, are going to be lured into large industry proposals as our economy and the need to accommodate a growing population advances. Despite a push by the Trump administration there are going to be few communities considering large coal operations anymore because they just don’t pay.
As we go further into Climate Change, communities are going to be asked to support good energy options (like wind and solar), and they’ll be asked to support bad options (like sacrificing their local environment to support landfills, pipelines, Fracking operations, and trash incinerators). It is increasingly critical that we learn to tell the difference.
The inclination of local leaders concerned about their community’s welfare is to try to strike a balance between a healthy environment and jobs. But this historical attitude doesn’t make any sense as we go deeper into Climate Change. Climate Change, the crisis of our warming planet, is also about the accumulated effects of all our past environmental abuses. Climate Change has taught us that our environment is far more sensitive to pollution and temperature rises than we thought. Climate Change action plans, like Rochester’s Climate Action Plan, highlight the priorities communities must now adopt in order to responsibly address the challenges of energy use, land use, public health, and much more. The notion of a balance between nature and jobs is a historical stance—not science.
We need to go forward in adapting to Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter, and avoid backtracking into unsustainable practices (like landfilling and trash incineration) that seemed to get us by in an earlier age.
Check out these wise words by the great science communicator, David Suzuki:
Consumer society no longer serves our needs How did “throw-away”, “disposable” and “planned obsolescence” become part of product design and marketing? It was deliberate. Wars are effective at getting economies moving, and the Second World War pulled America out of the Great Depression. By 1945, the American economy was blazing as victory approached. But how can a war-based economy continue in peacetime? One way is to continue hostilities or their threat. The global costs of armaments and defence still dwarf spending for health care and education. Another way to transform a wartime economy to peacetime is consumption. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, wrote in 1776, “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production.” (January 11, 2018, By David Suzuki Foundation)