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When you think of garbage incineration you think of belching black smoke and toxic fumes from burning batteries and aerosol cans. New technology allows for cleaner combustion while generating heat and electricity – New waste-to-energy incinerators in Denmark have proven to be remarkably efficient and clean. Small power plants are placed around the country to heat homes and provide electricity for the local area. In this way, garbage is disposed of and heat is produced locally, leading to less carbon emissions.

Such technology has yet to grace the United States (surprise, surprise) because of the upfront cost and the Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) mentality. As an example, New York City alone exports 10,500 tons of garbage to landfills in Ohio and North Carolina every day at a cost of $307 million a year (and climbing). How is that cost effective or efficient?

It is not only conservatives who are pushing against such forms of power generation. Some environmentalists also oppose new waste-to-energy plants for the goal to produce zero waste. If power generation relies on the creation of waste then their efforts will be hindered. Let us get real for a minute. Zero waste is a honorable goal, but unrealistic. Even the green Danes still produce waste (61% of waste is recycled and 34% is incinerated). We should not be so stubborn to oppose a technology simply for a lofty (and unattainable) end goal. Furthermore, waste-to-energy plants do not make people create more waste. They are potentially part of the solution, not the problem. That being said, I dream of the day when 61% of our garbage is recycled in this country.

Instead of nuclear plants, maybe we should think about adding waste-to-energy plants into the greening of the American power generation and supply system (people are mistaken if they think nuclear energy is “green”). The garbage needs to go somewhere and we might as well put it to good use instead of burying it. What good is it doing there? When it is out of sight, it is out of mind. The problem is it won’t be out of sight forever.