Incineration is the most expensive and polluting way to make energy or to manage waste. It produces the fewest jobs compared to reuse, recycling and composting the same materials. It is the dirtiest way to manage waste - far more polluting than landfills. It is also the dirtiest way to produce energy - far more polluting than coal burning.Most expensive way to manage wasteAccording to the waste industry itself, incineration has always been more expensive than landfills. They are inherently more complicated to operate and the cost gap increases over time as the enormous expense of pollution controls keeps incinerators expensive as air regulations gradually tighten. The cost of the 1,500 ton/day incinerator proposed for Frederick, MD (defeated in Nov 2014) climbed over $500 million -- actually around $1 billion, including the interest on the bonds. A strong zero waste program could be developed for a fraction of the cost, diverting at least as much waste from landfills, as incinerators only reduce the tonnage going to landfills by 70% (about 90% by volume). Read more...

Bad for recycling and composting

The huge economic resources that need to be put into incineration are better spent on zero waste programs, which can reduce the amount of waste going to landfill by more than the 70% reduction in tonnage that incinerators accomplish -- and can do so at lower cost. Once a incinerator is built, "put-or-pay" contracts discourage recycling and composting by charging local governments the same, even if they produce less waste.

Trash incinerators are unpopular and declining

No new commercial trash incinerator has been sited, built and operated at a new site in the U.S. since 1995. One large new one, however, was built in West Palm Beach, Florida in 2015, adjacent to an existing large incinerator. Some smaller ones have also been expanded or rebuilt. Despite hundreds of attempts to build new incinerators, community opposition has been the main force preventing them from being built. Overall, the number of operating incinerators in the U.S. has declined. In 1991, there were 187 trash incinerators in the U.S. At the turn of the century, there were 114. As of early 2020, there are just 72, the lowest number since 1981.

Number of Commercial Trash Incinerators Operating in the U.S.

Number of Commercial Trash Incinerators Operating in the U.S.