The Socioeconomics of Waste-to- Energy: Conclusions
Municipal solid waste (MSW) incineration was adopted by many U.S. communities during the 1980s to manage their growing quantities of MSW. Although less than 1 percent of all U.S. MSW was burned to retrieve its heat energy in 1970, VVTE grew to account for 16 percent of MSW in 1990, and many experts forecasted that WTE would be used to manage as much as half of all U.S. garbage by the turn of the century.
Those forecasts now are challenged by recent WTE project cancellations, and the long-run viability of WTE is in question. A total of 248 WTE projects in various stages of planning were canceled during the 1982 to 1990 time frame. Only 8 projects were scratched between 1982 and 1984, while 207 were abandoned between 1986 and 1990. To put these cancellations in perspective, consider that there were only 140 operational U.S. facilities in 1990 and that the total WTE capacity that was abandoned between 1986 and 1990 exceeded the total operational WTE capacity in 1990.
Why have these cancellations occurred, and what, if anything, do they tell us about the long-run viability of WTE in the United States? This study has taken an in-depth look at these questions by addressing numerous socioeconomic factors that have played a role in the decisions of communities that have considered WTE as a component of their solid waste management (SWM) strategies. More specifically, a three-pronged approach was adopted to investigate (1) the relationships between key socioeconomic characteristics and a municipality's decision to consider and accept or reject WTE, (2) the potential impacts of recent changes in financial markets on the viability of WTE, and (3) the WTE decision-making process and the socioeconomic parameters that are most important in the municipality's decision.