Solid Waste Services wants to turn your trash into power

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - According to Solid Waste Services in Anchorage, space is running out in the long term for the landfill in Eagle River.

General Manager, Mark Spafford says that if the city continues to deal with our trash without changing any methods, it’s estimated the remaining space will last about 42 years. To prolong what space is available, he said they are exploring the option of turning our garbage into energy.

The option being seriously considered is the construction of a Waste to Energy (WTE) facility. Simply put, it would involve spending between $300 to $400 million and around a decade of work to construct an incinerator capable of burning trash of all types and converting the heat into energy, according to Spafford.

“Basically it takes all the material that we can’t recycle that’s being thrown away,” Spafford said, “reduces it in volume by 90% and converts that energy in the material back into power.”

Based on waste habits in Anchorage, he estimates a WTE facility could produce enough energy to power somewhere around 25,000 homes per year. By putting ash in the landfill instead of solid waste, it’s predicted that the landfill could last another 179 years

The Anchorage City Assembly recently passed $100,000 to come out of SWS’s budget to fund a plan to see if it’s an idea that would make sense for the city according to assembly member Christopher Constant, who voted in favor of looking into it along with most of the assembly.

“It passed no problem,” Constant said about the bid. “It’s not a commitment to do this, to spend $300 million and grow this massive infrastructure. It’s the next step; look at the trash we have; look at the trash we would need to burn; how much energy would that create? Is it feasible? That’s where we are now.”

SWS has already conducted a pre-feasibility study alongside a consultant that they brought forward for the proposal to the assembly.

In that study, SWS outlines that it’s not a brand new type of technology and people have been burning garbage as an energy source since the ’60s. There have been 2,179 WTE facilities constructed around the world since 2018. It says most of them are in European countries and Japan. Here in the United States, there’s only 77.

However, this method of dealing with garbage is up for debate in many of those places now. Groups like the New-England based Conservation Law Foundation claim the benefits of WTE facilities aren’t worth the health risks.

In a blog post , they state these facilities generate many toxic pollutants and carcinogens that are harmful to the communities around them. However, they do say much of their findings are based on some of the other incinerators, and that newer ones do a better job of minimizing them.

Constant said those worries and others have been coming up from the community.

“We’ve heard concerns from the community about the possibility of toxins being created or a failed regulatory scheme that could cause bad things to happen,” Constant said.

While there are environmental worries about the air, there is still the looming problem of landfills being a ‘precious natural resource,’ as Spafford puts it.

There’s just not a lot of places to put garbage in Anchorage. He said if the landfill fills up, the next generation would be paying four to five times the amount we do now.

It would mean taking to places like the Valley, who would first have to agree to accept all of the garbage. Spafford also said that the other option would be barging it out, which is very expensive.

Spafford said whether or not the feasibility plan over the next 90 days goes well, SWS has every intention of finding better ways to deal with trash through recycling and other means, but he feels very passionate this is the best option for Anchorage and surrounding communities.

“I consider it the ultimate recycling program,” he said. “A facility like this could literally burn all the garbage that’s on the rail-belt. They could ship us their garbage and we could burn it in a facility like this and solve the landfill issues for the state for a long time.”

Some have brought concerns to KTUU over the city giving the bid to SWS and their consultant without an RFP. The city explains the decision in a memo essentially stating that they had already done substantial legwork on the proposal.

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