Energy Supply

Energy Potential of Municipal Solid Waste Is Limited Gao ID: RCED-94-200 September 20, 1994

More than 195 million tons of municipal solid waste--basically household and commercial garbage--were generated in the United States. Yet only a small portion of solid waste is now used for energy production, mainly through the use of electricity-generating facilities that burn municipal waste as a fuel and engines fueled by waste gases from landfills. GAO concludes that energy recovery from municipal solid waste holds limited potential to contribute to the nation's overall energy production, not only because of the volume and energy content of the waste itself, but also because of factors affecting the use of waste disposal, including public opposition and the availability of financing. This report also discusses (1) the environmental impact of producing energy from waste, (2) the Energy Department's research and development efforts to use waste as a viable energy source, and (3) the potential energy savings from and environmental impact of recycling waste material.

GAO found that: (1) energy recovery from municipal solid waste has the potential for making only a limited contribution to the nation's overall energy production; (2) energy production from waste combustors and landfill gases generates pollutants, but these pollutants are reduced through current regulations that require the use of emissions control technology and define operational criteria for landfills; (3) DOE research and development efforts include improving the operational performance of combustors and refining the technology for increasing energy production at waste landfills; and (4) the energy savings and environmental impacts of recycling programs have yet to be clearly demonstrated.

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