An Overview of Waste-to-Energy in the United States
The focus of the previous chapter was on issues that make waste-to-energy a controversial MSW management alternative, especially at the level of the local community. This chapter discusses several issues that are more national in scope. In particular, this chapter presents (1) a brief history of the adoption of WTE in the United States and an overview of the WTE facilities in operation and in the planning phases, (2) an overview of the structure of the WTE industry in the United States, (3) a brief discussion of the quantity and composition of MSW in the United States, and (4) projections of the total U.S. production of energy from MSW combustion during the coming years and decades.
In 1960 WTE capacity was essentially zero in the United States, and by 1975 only about 0.5 percent of all MSW was combusted with heat recovery. The 1980s saw a rapid increase in WTE construction, and by 1990 more than 15 percent of all U.S. MSW was burned to retrieve its heat value ( U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1992a).
WTE has been used even more in Europe and Japan. Although it is difficult to compare the numbers from those countries with the United States because of different definitions of what constitutes the municipal waste stream and other differences in methodologies, it is generally agreed that Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, and Japan incinerate more than 50 percent of their MSW. Some of these countries may, in fact, approach a 70 percent WTE rate. In