Electricity can be produced by burning "municipal solid waste" (MSW) as a fuel. MSW power plants, also called waste to energy (WTE) plants, are designed to dispose of MSW and to produce electricity as a byproduct of the incinerator operation.
The term MSW describes the stream of solid waste ("trash" or "garbage") generated by households and apartments, commercial establishments, industries and institutions. MSW consists of everyday items such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint and batteries. It does not include medical, commercial and industrial hazardous or radioactive wastes, which must be treated separately.
MSW is managed by a combination of disposal in landfill sites, recycling, and incineration. MSW incinerators often produce electricity in WTE plants. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends, "The most environmentally sound management of MSW is achieved when these approaches are implemented according to EPA's preferred order: source reduction first, recycling and composting second, and disposal in landfills or waste combustors last." http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/index.htm
EPA estimates that in 1998 17 percent of the nation's MSW was burned and generated electricity (e.g., 14% in Pennsylvania, 2% in New Jersey; 2% in California), 55% was disposed in landfills, and 28% was recovered for reuse.
In the United States, there are currently two main WTE facility designs:
Mass Burn is the most common waste-to-energy technology, in which MSW is combusted directly in much the same way as fossil fuels are used in other direct combustion technologies. Burning MSW converts water to steam to drive a turbine connected to an electricity generator.
Refuse-derived fuel (RDF) facilities process the MSW prior to direct combustion. The level of pre-combustion processing varies among facilities, but generally involves shredding of the MSW and removal of...
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