Recycling still a practical solution

by Keelia Moeller

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report on Sunday suggesting that major reductions in emissions are necessary in order to avoid further negative consequences of human-caused climate change.

One major question related to this report is what to do with our garbage. At the moment, trash is either thrown into landfills or incinerated, and then it is converted into energy through waste-to-energy technologies.

Minnesota has 10 facilities for converting waste into energy. These can reduce the two main emissions that landfills produce — methane and carbon dioxide.

However, far from being a miracle solution to climate change, incinerating garbage has its downsides.

Municipal waste incinerators can emit up to 14 times more mercury than a typical coal plant. Incinerators also produce fly ash, bottom ash and wastewater sludge, which are all released back into the environment. Additionally, they sometimes release ultra-fine particles into the air.

Is there a way to address this problem as both solutions still emit toxins?

One thing we could do is reduce the amount of recyclables that find their way into garbage. The Environmental Protection Agency believes that 75 percent of solid waste is recyclable. Unfortunately, only about one-third of this waste is actually recycled.

Recycling is cheaper than creating more incineration plants and landfills. It’s also a simple way to save a great deal of energy and reduce carbon emissions released from both processes.

We must make an effort to maximize recycling in Minnesota by providing people the education, resources and infrastructure they need to actually recycle instead of just throwing everything away.