Many of you may recycle your glass bottles, plastic containers and paper products, but what about your solid waste that cant be recycled? Items such as leftover food, used diapers, and chewed up doggie toys are just a couple of things that might make their way into your trash bag. But have you ever wondered where your trash bags go? Before you answer with, a landfill, you might want to read on.
From curbside to landfill?
When the garbage men, or Sanitation Engineers, pick up the communitys weekly trash, they surprisingly head to both waste combustors (incinerators) and landfills. Essentially, a waste combustor is a furnace-like facility that is able to burn trash at high temperatures in order to condense waste. On the other hand, a landfill is a low hole in the ground layered with clay or plastic where trash is placed.
According to Leonora Anton from the St. Petersburg Times, Floridians burn more garbage than any other state; there are 11 incinerators and 53 landfills. So, depending on what county of the Tampa Bay Area you reside in -- Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas, etc. -- your trash could be burned or dumped in a landfill. Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco are examples of three counties where most garbage is burned in an incinerator. However, in Hernando County the garbage is just put into a landfill.
How can an incinerator be better than a landfill? The answer is that most incinerators convert burned garbage to energy. Anton explains the process as garbage trucks return to the waste-to-energy facility where the solid waste is then put into boilers by a series of claw-machines. Then the ash from the solid waste is cooled with water and placed onto a conveyor belt. After that, magnets pick out any scrap pieces of metal that is then sold as scrap metal. Meanwhile, the remaining cool ash on the conveyor belt is then placed into trucks and transported to landfills. On average, about 200 tons of garbage and 1,000 tons of ash are disposed of at the landfill daily. The ash takes up 10 percent of the space and weighs about a third of what the garbage would if it was not burned.
Back at the waste-to-energy facility, a giant vacuum bag captures any gases or airborne ash from the incinerators that could be hazardous to the environment. The heat from the incinerators boilers turns water into steam, operating a turbine to generate electricity. This electricity powers regional households every day.
Burning garbage ultimately saves landfill space since the ash takes up minimal space. And most importantly, burning garbage produces energy through the conversion of heat into electricity. But why, if incinerators can create power, are some counties burning their trash while others are using landfills? This question has been asked throughout the state and country with only one problem: money. Burning as opposed to dumping is highly expensive. Pinellas Countys incinerator cost $500-million dollars, according to Anton. Although the Pinellas incinerator makes an annual profit of over seven digits, the money is mostly used to pay for the cost of production for the incinerator in the first place. What little profit is left after that is divided for curbside recycling.
Essentially, each county cannot invest in an expensive incinerator; thus, both landfills and incinerators are used for the Tampa Bay Area.