Air Emissions: Waste-to-Energy Compared to Fossil Fuels for Equal Amounts of Energy11
Trace Metal Emissions
All fuel sources listed here release trace amounts of metals. Good data are available on waste-to-energy emissions, because they are regulated under the 1990 Clean Air Act and various state environmental laws. Reliable data are not available in some cases for other fuels, because metal emissions from utility power plants are not currently regulated. It is therefore not possible to make an "equal energy comparison" like the other graphs on this page. What is known is this: each fuel shown here may emit at least one metal at higher levels than the other fuels. For waste-to-energy it is mercury. Coal emissions contain higher amounts of arsenic, chromium, selenium and zinc. No. 6 oil emissions contain higher levels of cadmium and nickel. Reliable natural gas emissions data are not currently available.Waste-to-energy also preserves valuable landfill space. Today, new landfills must be built to very strict standards to protect the land and water from leaks. This has made them expensive to own and operate. Since ash left over after burning is only about 10 percent of the original volume of trash, waste-to-energy helps landfills last longer. In many states and several European countries, ash is reused in concrete, asphalt, grout, road-base and other construction materials.Burning also makes it easier to recover and recycle many metals, which are big moneymakers in recycling programs.
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