Brief

Advocates prioritize WTE facility closure during Baltimore 'zero waste' hearing

Dive Brief:

  • Multiple advocates repeatedly raised closing Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Co. (BRESCO) — operated by Wheelabrator — as a top priority while testifying on a new "zero waste" resolution during a recent Baltimore City Council committee hearing, as reported by the Baltimore Brew.
  • The resolution, 17-0022R, was passed unanimously by all committee members. It outlines the potential for a "zero waste" plan in broad terms, with an emphasis on reducing carbon dioxide emissions from waste-to-energy combustion and creating local jobs through higher diversion rates.
  • Advocates from groups such as Free Your Voice (which was a strong opponent of the scrapped Energy Answers WTE facility) and the Energy Justice Network asked city officials not to renew the BRESCO contract when it expires in 2021. New state regulations may require the facility to reduce its nitrogen oxide emissions, which they have pledged to do, but the advocates weren't convinced this would be enough to mitigate the facility's overall contribution to citywide emissions.

Dive Insight:

Spurred by the Energy Answers cancellation last year, and a promise from recently-elected Mayor Catherine Pugh to double the city's diversion rate, "zero waste" advocates sense a new opportunity in Baltimore. As outlined by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) in a recent report that could play out a number of ways. This would include the usual standardized recycling carts, pay-as-you-throw system and public awareness campaign that are proposed for many cities looking to maximize their diversion, but it may also require the construction of new processing infrastructure as well. 

Potential options include building a new material recovery facility, a resource recovery park that could create repair and reuse jobs​, and a range of local organics processing operations. The enactment of a new law to study organics processing infrastructure throughout Maryland could be particularly helpful in identifying opportunities. Though even with all of these facilities some type of disposal option would still be needed in the short-term. Because the nearby Quarantine Road Landfill is nearing capacity, it's possible that Baltimore could extend its contract with Wheelabrator for a shorter period to buy more time. 

The idea of keeping BRESCO open any longer than 2021 may not go over well with the activist groups, though the experiences of other major cities with "zero waste" plans have shown that shifting away from WTE or other disposal options doesn't happen overnight. Even as new cities such as Philadelphia and Boston begin plotting their own path to "zero waste," major WTE companies such as Covanta still believe there will be a market for their services for many more years.

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Filed Under: Waste Diversion Waste-to-Energy
Top image credit: Ivy Dawned