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Endless garbage, booming populations, and landfills filling up. What is a country, and our community, to do?
WPTV went looking for answers and found one at a place called "The Pit.” It is a cavernous room filled, and I do mean filled, with garbage. How much? Try 1.5 million tons a year, all the garbage in Palm Beach County. It all ends up at the Renewable Energy Park, which includes a state-of-the-art waste to energy facility.
Raymond Schauer is one of the key directors of the sprawling operation run by the county’s Solid Waste Authority.
Schauer told me, “This plant, by every measure, is one of the cleanest, if not the cleanest, waste to energy facilities in the United States.”
More than 3,000 tons of garbage arrive every day. Technicians work giant claws that grab up to nine-ton fistfuls at a time and deposit it in giant boilers. Those boilers burn at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. All that heat and energy is used to turn water to steam. The steam powers a turbine system which pumps out electricity to the local power grid. Enough power, in fact, to light 70,000 homes annually.
Robert Worobel is director of operations at the facility. He said, “Quite frankly, we are known as the Disney World of trash.”
In fact, solid waste operators from around the globe come here to check out the facility. Burned garbage becomes inert, non-toxic ash. It is then hauled to the nearby landfill, which has its useful life extended by decades.
The reason is simple. Schauer says, “We reduce the volume of waste coming into our landfill by 90 percent.”
Environmentalists complain about carbon dioxide and nitrogen pollutants from the plant. Engineers here respond by pointing to a huge wing of the facility packed with emission control systems, scrubbers, filters, etc.
Worobel said, “It is extremely clean. It can be compared to gas-fired plants, and (is) much cleaner than fossil fuel plants.”
Schauer puts it another way. He told me, “Put garbage in a landfill. That generates methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas 28 times more destructive than any gas we emit from our facility.”
By one count, there is fewer than 80 waste to energy facilities in the United States. Compare that to nearly 500 such facilities across Europe. Landfills everywhere, though, run into the reality of shrinking space amidst demand to do something with all that garbage.
The Solid Waste Authority thinks it has an answer in this $680 million facility, one it hopes will be in the vanguard of efforts to protect the land around us.