Converting waste into energy is a worldwide industry. In the United States alone, 88 waste-to-energy facilities process nearly 100,000 tons of municipal solid waste -- everyday household and commercial garbage and trash -- each day. As a result, these facilities generate enough electricity to meet the needs of more than two million homes.
In Florida, 11 waste-to-energy facilities from Miami to Panama City process nearly 20,000 tons of municipal solid waste each day -- enough to fill a football stadium -- while continuously producing over 500 megawatts of clean, renewable power. The Tampa Bay area is home to four waste-to-energy facilities, located in the City of Tampa and in the counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco. Without these facilities, local governments would be faced with the daunting task of siting large landfills near our rapidly growing residential communities.
Florida's waste-to-energy facilities eliminate 90% of the waste that once would have been landfilled. Even so, landfills throughout the state are reaching capacity faster than anticipated. It is becoming increasingly difficult to expand landfills or open new ones as residential development encroaches on once-remote landfill sites. Florida's population is expected to reach almost 23 million by the year 2020, bringing even more challenges to managing municipal solid waste.
During the late 1970's, Florida's 19 most populated counties were required by state law to investigate alternatives to landfill disposal in the name of resource recovery: recovering energy and materials from municipal solid waste. Although waste-to-energy was commonly used in Europe and Japan at the time, it was relatively new in the United States. Waste-to-energy has since emerged in Florida and the rest of the country as a clean, reliable method of waste disposal, and continues to be encouraged by state law. In fact, several communities in Florida are looking into expanding their waste-to-energy facilities which have exceeded design capacities.
Recently, the State of Florida, along with other states around the country, has taken an interest in the subject of renewable energy in order to decrease dependence on fossil fuels. The Florida Legislature passed a bill in 2005 which requires electric utilities to purchase energy from renewable sources. There are two basic types of renewable energy -- one from non-combustion and the other from combustion-based sources. Solar, wind and hydropower are the non-combustion sources that usually come to mind when people hear the term renewable energy. Combustion sources are usually "biomass" facilities that burn wood and agricultural waste, yard trimmings, landfill gas, and municipal solid waste. Waste-to-energy is a significant contributor of renewable energy in the State of Florida.
Half of Florida's population is served by solid waste systems that utilize waste-to-energy, and the state's 11 facilities put Florida in a position of producing more electricity from solid waste than any other state. Generating energy from solid waste is very compatible with materials recycling programs, another important element of successful waste management. In fact, communities with waste-to-energy facilities have some of the most thriving recycling programs, including curbside collection, drop-off centers, and metal recovery at the facilities themselves.
At Tampa's McKay Bay Waste-to-Energy Facility, what cannot be recycled is burned at high temperatures in waste-fired boilers to generate steam. The steam is routed to a turbine generator to make electricity, which is purchased by Seminole Electric Cooperative. Revenues from the sale of the electricity help to offset the costs of waste disposal.
In addition to recovering energy from municipal solid waste, Tampa has a materials recycling program for recovering glass, plastic, aluminum, paper, and yard waste. Furthermore, the City is also exploring the possibility of recycling the ash that remains after waste is combusted at the waste-to-energy facility. Ash recycling is fairly common in Europe, and is just beginning to make its way into the United States. Ash from waste-to-energy facilities can be used as a substitute material for road construction and in commercial construction applications such as structural fill, pipe bedding, and the manufacturing of paving and cinder blocks.
Another key recycling activity conducted at waste-to-energy facilities is the recycling of metals separated from the ash after combustion. The McKay Bay Waste-to-Energy Facility recovers enough metal at this facility to produce 4,000 automobiles per year.
In keeping with the Clean Air Act of 1990, waste-to-energy facilities in Florida and throughout the United States have recently been retrofitted with state-of-the-art air emission control technology. As a result, these facilities are among the cleanest sources of renewable power in the world. Waste-to-energy facilities reduce our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels, significantly reduce the amount of waste that needs to be landfilled, and are good partners to recycling in our local communities' waste management programs.