During the course of researching and writing this book, the authors became keenly aware of the tremendous controversy that surrounds the incineration of municipal solid waste (MSW). Incineration with heat recovery, commonly called waste-to-energy (WTE), is a topic about which there is no lack of emotion, no shortage of opinions, and no want of issues around which controversy thrives. Environmental questions, regulatory uncertainties, financial risks, technology reliability, the relative costs of alternative approaches to waste management, the potential for those alternatives to manage different segments of the waste stream, and the decision process itself are often debated by opposing sides that label themselves as opponents or proponents of WTE. And the resolution of these key issues has all too often been hindered or blocked by the strategic positioning of the opposing sides. Both sides harbor a concern--even a fear--that the results of studies will be taken out of context and the use of certain terminology will bias the public and decision makers in a particular way.
This book does not take a position of either opposing or promoting WTE or any other method to manage municipal waste. Rather, the authors have strived for neutrality in addressing the complex social and economic issues that are often central to decisions about particular WTE projects and that will play a key role in determining the overall viability of WTE in the future. Although the focus of the book is on socioeconomic issues, background information is presented on the key technical, environmental, and health issues that, in part, fuel the current controversy. Great care has been taken to summarize the various arguments, not with the purpose of assessing the accuracy of the arguments about health and environmental impacts or technology constraints--which is beyond the scope of this study--but simply as background on the social and economic sources of the controversy.
It is hoped that this book will be viewed as a dispassionate assessment