Beyond Incineration: Best Waste Management Strategies for Montgomery County, Maryland

Zero Waste Montgomery County

Covanta's trash incinerator in Montgomery County, Maryland is the largest air industrial polluter in the county, by far. Following a massive waste pile fire that burned for nearly two weeks in late 2016, we've been supporting our member group, Sugarloaf Citizens' Association, to close this incinerator for good. We worked with them and other local environmental leaders forming Zero Waste Montgomery County to issue the March 2021 report, "Beyond Incineration: Best Waste Management Strategies for Montgomery County, Maryland" to support the county's commitment to end incineration.

This report was cited in the December 3, 2021 letter from County Executive Marc Elrich announcing plans to close this county-owned, Covanta-operated trash incinerator (one of the youngest in the country) within 12-18 months.

This detailed report documents how incineration is worse than landfilling, analyses the alternatives, and recommends what the county should do. It debunks pro-incinerator propaganda by Covanta and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Further resources on incineration are on our incineration page.

Find the report here: www.energyjustice.net/md/beyond.pdf

The powerpoint with overview slides is here: www.energyjustice.net/md/beyondppt.pdf

The report's chapters include:
Chapter 1: Zero Waste Strategies Have More Potential than DEP & HDR Portray
Chapter 2: The Case Against Incineration
Chapter 3: Greenhouse Gases & Creative Accounting
Chapter 4: Landfilling vs. Incineration
Chapter 5: Environmental Racism
Chapter 6: Site 2 Landfill
Chapter 7: Choosing the Best Landfill
Chapter 8: Cost of Incineration vs. Landfilling
Chapter 9: The path forward

Chapter 4's Life Cycle Analysis proves that incineration (and landfilling ash) is far worse than direct landfilling, even after factoring in much larger transportation distances. Long-haul truck or rail to landfill sites amounted to only about 3% of the greenhouse gas impacts of landfilling. The chart below summarizes the finding, comparing the Montgomery County trash incinerator to the composite results of 10 landfills studied. Incineration at the county's incinerator has health and environmental impacts totaling $258.58/ton while landfilling (average of 10 landfills studied) totaled $80.15/ton -- impacts that are more than three times lower than incineration.