One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Energy

Taking out the trash?

Most of the time those bags of old food, broken things and other waste products are going from your hands to the curb and then to a landfill. If you live in Alexandria, Virginia or a community like it, though, your trash has a different final destination - your power lines.

Alexandria is home to one of Covanta Energy's municipal waste to energy plants. The things we throw out day to day go into the plant and out comes electricity, which is sold back to the community.

The technology has come a long way in recent years, with new filtration systems making it a pretty clean option for power generation. It's not anywhere near as efficient as coal, but the emissions are far, far lower - in fact, carbon dioxide emissions are even lower than natural gas.

The real benefit, though, is that every pound of trash being burned for energy is a pound of trash not sitting in a landfill. Besides being an eyesore, decomposing trash in landfills is a major source of methane - a greenhouse gas that, according to the EPA, can be even worse than carbon dioxide. The methane from landfills can be captured and converted onsite, but burning municipal waste is actually more efficient.

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