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Thursday, April 24, 2008

All the Kings Horses!

Jack Lynch

A Buddhist might be amused at the controversy over waste issues in Frederick County, Maryland. They might look to the basic fact of physics that all matter is ultimately only transformed and does not disappear atomically, it can only be transformed into heat or light – thus the large remainder of ash waste to be land-filled by any incinerator technology.

But a Buddhist would probably prefer a gas plasma torch facility, since it essentially conforms to the nature of the universe by blasting things into their constituent atomic substances.

Still, we have a classic confrontation between the will of government planners, hip deep in waste daily, and the activist public. The general public tending to sit silently to the side and ask for all the problems to go away, but please keep my taxes low, beyond that, I don't really care what you do with my waste.

Much like the planners they tend to want an easy solution – but are there any more easy solutions, when most of those easy solutions have proven to break us from the essential harmony of things implied in Buddhist thought, that everything should work towards the ultimate health and happiness and godliness of the universe.

County officials for the most part are trapped in their own assumptions. To make a shift towards the sort of resource recovery proposed is an extraordinary feat, a leap of faith most municipal systems cannot imagine, the fear being a setback.

But all the King's horses will not avoid the clash of civilizations that is coming on waste issues. Approving an incinerator plan will only delay the ultimate change that will surely come. If there are two laws of politics, they are first, that the "same old ways folks" will be replaced by the more advanced tribes of people, and second, that economics will beat common sense every day.

Given the seeming standoffishness of local officials, I see waste issues to be the biggest negative in Frederick County Commissioner Jan Gardner's recent career and pending future. Steadfastness on waste incineration looks to be a wedge between her and the activist public calling for new solutions and greener actions.

Sally Sorbello, who has led an effort against the incinerator, said on Frederick County Commissioner Kai Hagen's online forum, "There are 23 pages of toxins listed that come out of the Harford County, Maryland plant--everything from A for arsenic to Z for zylene, [are] listed...hundreds of toxins are reported, thousands are produced. These toxins are not routinely tested for, but they are routinely emitted."

My own suggestions that any ten story tall smokestack be painted like a big cigarette have been dismissed and ignored! But you must ask why it needs to be ten stories tall, no one builds ten stories needlessly – it is because of the air borne waste.

Years may remain before a final incinerator decision can stand, and many of these players may be long gone from the scene. However, their legacy will be determined by the steps they put in place towards incineration.

Proponents are the knee jerk enthusiasts in this scenario, they have failed to even consider the implications of management issues, full life cycle costs, waste transportation, additional landfill, and the Frederick County state delegation failure to allow waste franchise authority.

So the need to choose proven systems takes weight, as other communities risk new technologies, such as the first plasma based waste disposal system in the US, scheduled to come into operation in St. Lucie County, Florida.

The county states that they hope to not only avoid further landfill, but completely empty their existing landfill—4.3 million tons (3.9 million metric tons) of waste collected since 1978—within 18 years. The plant is scheduled to come into operation in 2009, and to produce 600 tons (550,000 kg) of solid rubble from around 3000 tons (2.7 million kg) of waste per day at around 5500°C.

The city of Tallahassee, Florida has signed the largest plasma arc waste to process 1,000 tons daily from the city and several surrounding counties. Completion of the project is scheduled for October 2010.

Change will come, why wait thirty years as the world turns away from incineration? The response to the incineration proposal will only grow and opposition will spread, but will it come soon enough to halt a bad process? The choice is ours to determine.

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