FREE SPEECH ZONE | Public Hearing on New Policies re: Garbage Burning vs Recycling, Composting and Landfilling


FYI.  For those interested in solid waste management issues–ie: Recycling & Composting vs Burning and Landfilling.  Please feel free to forward to any interested parties. 
I am forwarding this information to you as a former Planning Commissioner who strongly opposed the recent request for a 20% capacity increase of the downtown Mpls Garbage Burner (HERC) on public health grounds.  The Planning Commission denied the capacity increase.  Convanta is now appealing this decision to the City Council.  The City Council recently granted them an extension on their appeal until March 2011.
As the following notification letter states–a new solid waste management policy specifically for the Twin Cities Metro Area is up for public review/comment until 11/15/10.  A meeting discussing the policy changes and an opportunity to comment or ask questions will be held Thurs., Oct. 14, 2010 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the MPCA Office, 520 Lafayette Road N., St. Paul.  The policy appears to stress garbage incineration over landfilling for waste management.  The following is a summary of some of the policy changes.  (The official announcement is toward the bottom.)

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As someone who is concerned about garbage incineration policies and permitting specifically in the Twin Cities area, I used the draft document’s search engine for the  Draft Metropolitan Solid Waste Management Policy Plan  to search “Incineration”.  Among the results is the following hierarchy, making municipal composting and burning equal in terms of desireable ways to deal with solid waste.  Both are to be used before any landfilling. 
Page 6 Categorizes incineration as a type of “resource recovery” along with municipal composting to be utilized before landfills.

…Hierarchy of preferred solid waste management practices:

(1) waste reduction and reuse;

(2) waste recycling;

(3) composting of yard waste and food waste;

(4) resource recovery through mixed municipal solid waste composting or incineration;

(5) land disposal which produces no measurable methane gas or which involves the retrieval of methane gas as a fuel for the production of energy to be used on-site or for sale; and

(6) land disposal which produces measurable methane and which does not involve the retrieval of methane gas as a fuel for the production of energy to be used on-site or for sale.

Later policies go as far as saying that “new land disposal capacity [ie: landfills] does not contribute to diverting waste from reuse, source separation, or resource recovery through mixed use solid waste composting or incineration…” (pages 51-52).  I fully support reuse, recycling and composting over burning (and think the city and county could do a better job supporting it).  But why is burning to be used over landfilling regardless?  Through the recent fights over burners in Mpls and St Paul–the environmental and public health downsides regarding incineration have been more thoroughly explored. 

The Upshot:  Burners spew mercury, dioxins and other harmful chemicals wherever the winds blow them.  The resulting ash and water used to clean the scrubbers contain high levels of concentrated and dangerous toxins that still need to be buried in some kind of toxic waste landfill.  Why is this so desireable?  Especially when so much of the waste stream can be diverted and even eliminated through municipal recycling and composting.   A concise summary of the downsides of garbage burning can be found in this link:  (New York also has experience dealing with Convanta, the people who run the downtown Mpls garbage burner.) 

As the preceding NYPIRG link states:  “Incineration (“waste-to-energy”) turns a solid waste problem into an air pollution problem, and creates a new waste disposal problem in the form of toxic ash.” Maybe I’m missing something–but how can these type of facilities legitimately meet the charter of a “Pollution Control” Agency?

As we speak, Convanta is still in the process of appealing the decision by the city of Mpls to deny increasing their garbage burner capacity by 20%–which would allow another 200 tons of garbage per day to be burned in downtown Mpls.  It is hard to know exactly if/how these state regulatory changes could affect this appeal or future permitting of Metro incinerators.  But it is interesting that this policy emphasizing incineration is being revised after several Metro burner permits have been denied due to public outcry over health concerns, while the downtown HERC and the Forest Lake burner are complaining that they are not at full capacity, and while the HERC burner capacity increase appeal is waiting in the wings to be considered by the Mpls City Council in March 2011.  (The HERC was not even required to provide a new Evironmental Impact Statement to discuss the considerable potential public health ramifications nor the viable alternatives to burning.)  

I think this policy discussion is worth tracking.  I’ll be there and hope to see some of you as well.


Lara Norkus-Crampton