At first glance, it seems like a good idea. Instead of building landfills and burying millions of tons of trash, Frederick and Carroll are considering construction of a waste-to-energy plant. Advocates say the plant would reduce by 90 percent the volume of trash the two counties would have to dispose of and generate enough electricity to power 1,000 homes annually.
But there are lots of reasons why this project should not be built. For one, the only plant site under consideration is in an industrial park on the edge of the Monocacy National Battlefield south of Frederick. This proposed facility - with a likely 250- to 350-foot smokestack - was one of the reasons the Civil War Preservation Trust placed the battlefield on its 10 most endangered list. For another, paying the $527 million cost of building the plant plus operating costs would encourage burning instead of recycling trash through the anticipated 50-year life span of the facility. Most important, the proposed incinerator would contribute to global warning by throwing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The real answer to the trash disposal challenge is for the counties to encourage significant recycling of trash. The proposed incinerator wouldn't be completed until 2015. Before then, the counties could invest in an aggressive program that could lead to the recycling of as much as 60 percent of the rubbish thrown away today. Across America, recycling and composting diverted nearly 70 million tons of material from landfills and incinerators in 2000, up from 34 million tons in 1990. It takes 95 percent less energy to recycle aluminum than it does to make it from raw materials. Similar energy savings can be realized through recycling steel, newspaper, glass and plastics, and they far outweigh the energy created as a by-product of incineration.
Nine out of 10 people recently surveyed said they would recycle more if it were easier. Frederick and Carroll commissioners should dump the polluting, wasteful incineration plan and work to make recycling more appealing.