By Donella Meadows
–March 1, 1990–
Consider the following true story the next time someone tells you a trash-burning incinerator is the answer to your community’s solid waste problem.
October 1982 — Project Manager Ted Siegler tells the 25 towns in the New Hampshire Vermont Solid Waste District that they can dispose of their garbage with a trash-to-energy incinerator for a cost of $17 per ton. Current cost at the fast-filling regional landfill is $7 per ton.
January 1983 — The Solid Waste District awards a contract to build a trash incinerator. The tipping fee will be $27.33 per ton in 1986, the first year of operation.
July 1983 — A local activist circulates a petition asking his city council to drop out of the Solid Waste Project. He predicts that waste disposal at the incinerator will cost $50 per ton.
November 1985 — The fee to burn garbage at the incinerator now under construction in Claremont NH will rise to $30 per ton because of a new state requirement to remove 90 percent of the hydrochloric acid from the stack gases. Project officials had hoped to convince the state to set the standard at only 70 percent.
June 1986 — Local activists claim that ash from the incinerator will contain toxics and heavy metals, that costs of disposing of ash and monitoring air quality will be high, and that contracts with the incinerator operator do not protect the towns from environmental threats or from the financial burdens of dealing with those threats.
February 1987 — Solid Waste District officials are informed that the tipping fee for the nearly completed Claremont incinerator will be $41 per ton. The announcement is met by groans from members of the District, who ask Project Manager Ted Siegler how much the fee will increase in the future. “I make no prediction on the tipping fee,” he answers. “I gave that up two years ago.”
March 1987 — Less than two weeks after coming on line, the Claremont trash-to-energy incinerator faces a crisis. The landfill in Massachusetts that had agreed to accept its ash will not do so, because of a new requirement that ash be stored in separate landfills with plastic liners. For the time being ash is being stored at the incinerator site in watertight dumpsters.
April 1987 — Trucks have begun moving ash from the Claremont incinerator to a lined landfill in Rockingham Vt. operated by Browning Ferris Industries. This landfill will be used until a specially designed ash landfill can be built in Newport N.H.
June 1987 — Tests reveal high lead content in ash from incinerator.
December 1987 — Signal’s ash exceeds test limit for cadmium for the fourth time in eight months.
January 1988 — The water table under the ash landfill being constructed in Newport N.H. has been found to be higher than previously believed, a problem that may render useless at least part of the site.
May 1988 — Browning Ferris Industries has violated two conditions of the permit it holds to dispose of ash from the Claremont incinerator. It misled the state about the thickness of the landfill liner, and it has failed to cover the ash daily to keep it from being scattered by the wind.
May 1988 — Faced with a projected 1988 deficit of $524,000 officials of the Solid Waste Project proposes an increase in the tipping fee from $48 to $60 per ton.
June 1988 — Lead level soars in ash landfill measurements.
September 1988 — Engineers say that ash in the $2 million landfill under construction in Newport N.H. can only be piled 35 feet high instead of the 55 feet originally planned. That could decrease the lifetime of the ashfill from twenty years to twelve years.
November 1988 — The current tipping fee of $60 per ton will rise to $68.18 as of February 1.
December 1988 — Ash taken from the Claremont incinerator has once again exceeded federal and state limits for cadmium.
April 1989 — State regulators have told Signal Environmental Systems to replace inaccurate air-quality monitoring equipment at the company’s Claremont incinerator. Replacing the defective carbon monoxide monitor will cost as much as $100,000.
August 1989 — The Solid Waste District estimates a 1989 deficit of $534,000. The deficit arises in large part from dealing with the leachate from the project’s ash landfill. The leachate is trucked to a hazardous waste facility in Connecticut. The cost of this operation in one month alone was $100,000.
October 1989 — The District’s new budget increases tipping fees from $68 per ton to $75.38 per ton. This budget will not cover costs if the District does not get permission to dump its ash leachate at a local wastewater treatment plant.
February 1990 — The cost to Plainfield N.H. of garbage disposal at the Claremont incinerator, including tipping fees and hauling, is now $111 per ton. For that price it would be possible to mount a comprehensive recycling effort. But by the conditions of its contract, the town must pay to send a requisite amount of trash to the incinerator, whether the trash is actually sent or not.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1990