In recent years, we as faith leaders have become particularly engaged in addressing one of Baltimore’s most critical issues: the trash that scars our neighborhoods, fosters crime and threatens public and environmental health.
Of all the partners with whom we collaborate, none is more engaged and determined to improve conditions than Wheelabrator Baltimore.
Wheelabrator runs the city’s waste-to-energy facility south of M&T Bank Stadium. The facility takes solid waste and converts it under controlled conditions into renewable energy. Despite well-accepted data to the contrary, some activists insist the facility’s emissions are responsible for Baltimore’s asthma problems.
As gatekeepers for our communities, we have vetted Wheelabrator just as we would any partner. The company’s representatives are credible, transparent, committed to the community and unafraid to do the hard work necessary to transform many Baltimore neighborhoods plagued by illegal dumping and consistent littering.
Some who want Wheelabrator to close are promoting a “zero waste” initiative in Baltimore. We applaud this ideal, but we also recognize the vast shortcomings of the proposal currently before the Baltimore City Council. What has been presented is not a viable near-term solution to the city’s waste management challenges. We are in the midst of a full-scale emergency that has many of our neighborhoods drowning in trash. We need an immediate and comprehensive response.
The community creates more than 1.5 million tons of trash in Baltimore each year. The most generous estimates are that our residents recycle about 20% of that waste. Further, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that only about 75% of American refuse is actually reusable. Even if every city resident miraculously changed his or her behavior and began recycling overnight, hundreds of thousands of tons of materials we use each year in Baltimore won’t be recycled — because it can’t be.
Throwing all our trash in landfills isn’t a solution, but that’s exactly what zero waste proponents say we should do until we can recycle everything we use. Landfills emit large quantities of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas that has an exponentially greater impact on global climate change than carbon dioxide.
Our local landfill capacity is limited. The city already loads hundreds of thousands of tons of our trash on tractor-trailers to haul it to landfills in other areas. Those trucks emit exhaust that all credible research indicates is the leading cause of air pollution in Baltimore and other urban areas.
The sooner our landfill space is exhausted, the sooner the city will have to build transfer stations and use even more fossil fuel-consuming means to transport more of our trash to distant landfills. That’s more trucks on our roads — and more pollution in our air. It will also require tens of millions of dollars per year that the city doesn’t have — and taxpayers can’t be expected to absorb.
This isn’t our opinion. These are among the findings of the city’s own 10-year waste management plan, which states that “long-haul truck transfer … is a cost prohibitive and environmentally degrading option.” Opponents of Wheelabrator may not like this reality, but can they credibly dispute it.
Those who favor zero waste should partner with Wheelabrator. Working with our congregants, Wheelabrator Baltimore has established a team of “green ambassadors” that have knocked on thousands of doors to educate city residents about recycling. The company has distributed more than 1,400 free recycling bins citywide. And each year the company recycles tens of thousands of tons of metals that are delivered to its facility and would otherwise go unrecycled: all this in addition to hauling away thousands of gallons of trash on our streets during weekly community cleanups.
Baltimore has problems that require significant resources and dedication to solve. Wheelabrator is a valued partner whose employees work alongside our community members to improve our neighborhoods.
For those who are concerned about asthma in Baltimore, we would ask you to check the facts. The trash that fills our alleyways and sidewalks isn’t just blight. It attracts rodents and promotes the growth of mold, both of which Baltimore’s contributes to people’s asthma problem.
Together we should work to reduce fossil fuel consumption, traffic-related air pollution and methane emissions and protect our neighborhoods from grime and asthma-causing pathogens by removing trash others leave behind.
It is time for us to unite arms, discuss equitably our differences, and chart a fair and reasonable path forward to solve one of Baltimore’s most daunting challenges.