The Wheelabratorrr!!!!

December 11, 2010

While we were visiting the Croton Point Park Nature Center we met Lea Cullen, the Sustainability Coordinator for Westchester County. She was an incredibly welcoming host, inviting us in and feeding us a “locavore” lunch. That is, all the food served came from within the Hudson Valley food shed. There was a whole roast chicken, butternut squash, collards and smoked trout. It was delicious and guilt free.

As we were talking to Lea the old landfill at Croton Point came up. Croton Point Park, an amusement park, was opened in 1923. It featured, “Dancing, swimming, and other amusements.” A year later, in 1924, Westchester Parks Commission bought 500 acres of land on Croton Point and set aside 70 acres for a landfill. The landfill first began accepting trash in 1927 and was open until 1986, during which time it collected 10.4 million yds3 of garbage and swelled to 113 acres. It took the city nearly a decade, and over $40 million, to actually cap the landfill after it was closed. Today, Croton Point is a beautiful park overlooking the Hudson. You would never know that you are standing on ten and a half million yards of trash.

Croton Point Landfill

The Croton Point landfill today

But Westchester is still generating landfill everyday. I asked Lea where it was going now. She told us about the Wheelabrator, a waste-to-energy plant in Peeksill. This plant claims to create clean, sustainable energy from municipal waste. Upon further inspection it turns out that “waste-to-energy” is kind of a euphemism, the plant is essentially a fancy incinerator. They act much like a traditional coal fired plant, but instead of burning coal to generate electricity, they burn trash, 1500 tons of trash per day to be specific. This plant generates enough electricity to power 40,000 homes.

Similar technology is being used in Europe. According to the NYTimes, those plants emit few greenhouse gasses, and almost no toxins, thanks to a series of comprehensive filters. Here in the United States, the waste burned in one of these facilities is considered a renewable resource. Some environmentalists however, do not see it that way. They see this as a dangerous, and wasteful process. I would have to say that I am leaning towards that viewpoint.

I mean, even if no emissions come from the incineration at all, think about all the embodied emissions in making and transporting the waste. I don’t think we should consider waste a truly renewable resource. The golden rule of the environmental movement has always been the hierarchy of the three R’s( 1. Reduce 2. Reuse 3. Recycle).  Notice how it isn’t the three R’s and an I for incineration.

But at the same time, will we ever get down to a zero waste economy? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. If you are going to have waste, it does seem better to convert it to energy than to simply landfill it. But I don’t think we should see these things as the solution to our waste problem. Volume, not disposal, is our real waste problem.

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One Response to “The Wheelabratorrr!!!!”

  1. Thank you so much for visiting us at the Nature Center. Please let me know how we can be helpful.

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