Climate Conversations Zoom Chat Log - Is There an Answer to the Problems Waste Poses to Climate, Health & the Economy? - 3.28.2021

Scott Henson
Scott Henson
Last updated 
NOTE: Link to the Zoom recording is here

Questions Asked During the Session (covered by Philipp in the discussion):
  • Scott Henson (Drawdown Seattle): Do you have a sense of how much goes to landfill could actually be recycled?  What are the biggest streams?
  • Paul Litwin: Having trouble finding a website for IeRM. What is the url?
  • Chris Meinig: what is the approx  LCOE for waste-energy in Europe (LCOE-'levelized cost of electricity')?
  • Patricia Newkirk: Dumb question maybe but what does waste to energy mean?  What happens to the waste to transform it into energy?  Is that what Suellen is talking about - it is incinerated?
  • larry: How do you handle composite materials?
  • Chris Meinig: is that 20% reduction stat b/c of co2 coming out of landfills, or b/c of something else like energy savings, etc?
  • Skye Ellis (She/Her): Hoe can we get our government to take more care of this? I've seen things that's been going on overseas but I don't see America fixing this quickly
  • suellen mele: Can you talk about GHG emissions from waste-to-energy incinerators?
  • suellen mele: Could you explain what treated vs untreated waste is?
  • suellen mele: Could you talk about social justice issues? I’ve read information indicating that 79% of incinerators are located in environmental justice communities (low income communities, communities of color, or both).
  • larry: are they types of plastics that can be recycled without limits?
  • suellen mele: Philip, what about toxic fly ash as an ongoing issue?

Comments and Resources:
  • suellen mele: I am concerned that incineration is a deterrent to recycling. Good information about this at:
    00:40:01 suellen mele: Info about incineration as deterrent to recycling:
  • suellen mele: The document in my previous chat message includes information that over 80% of what is burned in Danish incinerators is actually recyclable or compostable. Moreover, data from 2005 show that regions with higher incineration rates have lower recycling rates
  • Scott Henson (Drawdown Seattle):
  • suellen mele: Thanks for the drawdown link, Scott. Waste-to-Energy is described as a “regrets solution” with harmful and high social and environmental costs
  • Scott Henson (Drawdown Seattle): @suellen - yes, Project Drawdown says similar things about Nuclear energy but acknowledges all of these solutions are critical to making the transition from where we are now.
  • suellen mele: Washington law has the following hierarchy. RCW 70A.205.005
    (8)The following priorities for the collection, handling, and management of solid waste are necessary and should be followed in descending order as applicable:
    (a) Waste reduction;
    (b) Recycling, with source separation of recyclable materials as the preferred method;
    (c) Energy recovery, incineration, or landfill of separated waste;
    (d) Energy recovery, incineration, or landfill of mixed municipal solid wastes.
    01:07:02 Paul Litwin: Yes, finally I hear someone say fireworks should not be used!!
  • Chris Meinig: shooting fireworks at eagles or making a W-E ski hill?
  • suellen mele: Here’s GHG info about incinerators:
    “Incinerators are dirtier than the rest of the grid: per unit of electricity generated, they emit 3.8 times as much GHGs (1.9 times as much fossil CO2, 15 times as much N2O & CH4, and 66 times as much biogenic CO2) as the grid average.
    01:32:37 Paul Litwin: Shouldn’t we do it all: 1. Reduce waste as a whole, 2. Reduce the use of landfills, 3. Use Waste to Energy but only if done in a clean way, and 4. Capture methane from landfills that remain.
  • Don Marsh: On carbon emissions, there will be more emissions to transport waste to distant landfills.  It is better to deal with waste as close as possible to where it is produced.
  • Paul Litwin: 20,000 doing waste management sounds kind of how the Trump Administration handled (or more appropriately didn’t handle) COVID.
  • Skye Ellis (She/Her): Yes it does
  • Don Marsh: On equity, landfills are located near disadvantaged communities.  Waste-to-energy with "clean smokestacks" would be better for social equity.  This is something that our state is becoming focused on, and represents an opportunity to move away from polluting landfills that impact health of nearby communities.
  • Amy Theobald: IMO, this is another scenario where very few Americans accept personal responsibility and accountability. I would suggest that is partially a cultural issue and largely, as Phillip has indicated, a lack of regulation.
  • Paul Litwin: Yes, @Don and @Amy
  • Amy Theobald: I would also be curious to better understand rates of consumption in US compared to EU...
  • Don Marsh: Every product should include the cost of its recycle, recovery, or disposal.  This should not fall on the backs of each consumer to "do the right thing."  Putting the responsibility on manufacturers seems like the only solution.
  • Skye Ellis (She/Her): I'm glad he's talking about companies
  • suellen mele: Thank you, Don! Producer responsibility is the way to go. In Washington, for example, we require electronic producers to be responsible for setting up recycling for computers and TVs at their end of life.
  • Skye Ellis (She/Her): That's what I'm saying
  • Don Marsh: @Suellen: That is a great start.  Now we need similar policy for plastic containers and the great majority of waste that isn't being recycled.
  • adrian:
  • suellen mele: I’d like to point people to the GAIA website: They provide many excellent resources including information about toxics from waste-to-energy incinerators, undermining recycling, and social justice issues.
  • Skye Ellis (She/Her): Ok, I can see what you are saying
    01:49:41 Don Marsh: I looked at  Calling WTE the dirtiest energy source is a little misleading, because it doesn't account for emissions from the alternative (landfill).  Lots to unpack there.
  • larry: you can also use flyash to reduce the CO2 emissions from making concrete
  • suellen mele: Thanks for this discussion. I obviously have significant concerns about waste-to-energy incineration for multiple reasons. I’d be happy to discuss further with anyone interested.
  • Don Marsh: Great topic!
  • Chris Meinig: Vielen Danke fuer die Slides Philipp und viel Glueck mit IeRM!
  • Skye Ellis (She/Her): Thank you for sharing this info, my first meeting of this type to ever go to