Dante Swinton, an organizer with The Energy Justice Network, leads college students on a "toxic tour" of polluting sites in Baltimore. The Energy Justice Network always starts the tour at the Wheelabrator incinerator, which was long known as BRESCO.
As the Director of the Maryland Chapter of the National Waste & Recycling Association, I have been reading with great interest the articles and editorials The Sun has published on “green washing” and the state’s efforts to improve its environmental standing (“Maryland’s green-wash,” July 31; “Maryland calls on Baltimore trash incinerator to cut emissions of a harmful pollutant by one-fifth,” Aug. 20). Having worked within the environmental arena for years, it is with some surprise that I read the perceptions of those opposed to the city’s waste-to-energy (WTE) program, given that WTE is a globally recognized and embraced form of environmentally responsible sustainable waste management and clean energy generation.
There is a reason the U.S. EPA and similar regulatory bodies and countries around the globe endorse and invest in WTE. While wind, solar and geothermal have great potential as long-term sustainable energy sources, they do not address critical issues we face today — and will continue to face well into the future, including waste disposal and baseload energy generation. The Baltimore WTE facility operates under strict EPA- and Maryland Department of the Environment-mandated air quality standards in processing up to 2,250 tons of post-recycled waste each day. In so doing, the facility safely disposes of post-recycled waste, reducing the volume by 90 percent, and recycling metals in the waste stream that otherwise would not have been recycled. WTE also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, generates steam for the city’s infrastructure and power that reduces our dependence on coal, oil and natural gas.
The waste and recycling industry, including WTE companies have been strong partners with state and local government as well as the environmental community in aggressively working to increase recycling rates for decades. The painful truth is that we cannot recycle our way to zero waste in the short term as there do not exist viable end markets to successfully reuse that much of the waste stream. Even as Baltimore continues to increase its recycling rate, there is still a need to sustainably process the residuals that cannot yet be recycled, and the U.S. EPA supports WTE as a means of achieving this. My colleagues and I will continue to actively push to increase recycling rates and promote recycling programs, but history demonstrates we need a holistic approach to immediate, responsible and sustainable waste management needs. While we look to manufacturers to continue to develop more environmentally friendly packaging and consumers to increase their organics practices and recycling rates, Baltimore would be wise to continue its integrated waste management model. WTE is a critical — and environmentally secure — element in that approach.
Steve Changaris, Auburn, Mass.
The writer is the Northeast Region Director of the National Waste and Recycling Association.