Waste-to-Energy (WTE) facilities and landfills, in that order, are the least-preferred way to manage our materials—yet that is exactly where most ends up. We don’t want to build new or bigger landfills and WTE facilities, so it’s important that we work hard to reduce, reuse, and recycle our materials if we are to maximize the life of Maine’s existing disposal options. Not only that, but disposal of waste can range anywhere from $50-$100+ per ton in Maine. We are literally throwing our money in the trash when we send materials to WTE facilities or landfills.
WTE facilities are prefeable to landfills in our waste management hierarchy because they reduce the volume of waste disposed of in landfills by about 80 percent. They also generate a substantial amount of electricity through combustion. However, WTE facilities emit some toxic pollution, such as mercury and dioxin, from their stacks. This is why it is very important to keep mercury-containing products and other hazardous materials from being burned. We also need to make sure that our three remaining WTE facilities are regulated and monitored by the State to minimize their pollution potential.
Landfilling is the last-resort method of managing materials. It is tragic that we bury so many valuable, finite resources and leave fewer resources—and land—available for future generations. Landfills are not only wasteful, they also can emit mass quantities of methane gas into the atmosphere if they are not managed properly. Methane gas has 25 times the heat-trapping potential as carbon dioxide. Some landfills capture methane gas and create electricity, but this is merely a best practice and not a good reason to landfill. According to this study, WTE facilities are able to produce about 11 times more electricity per ton than could be produced through capturing landfill gas.
Our state is peppered with hundreds of old, closed landfills (some are lined, and some are not) and there are only eleven landfills left. Of these landfills, three are owned by the State but managed by waste management companies (although one of these landfills is undeveloped). Seven of our landfills are municipally owned, and we only have one commercial landfill. Each landfill has a certain projected life span based on currently disposal rates, and this information can be found in DEP’s Materials Management Plan.