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One Man's Trash…


Dear Source:
In the early 1980's, I was involved with the protest of a new trash to energy under construction in Massachusetts. I felt then that such a "behemoth" would ruin our ecology and spew toxins into the atmosphere. Being nearly arrested for my actions, I felt that the group I was involved with was correct in their assumptions, and was willing to be "civilly disobedient" and risk possible arrest. The group was not successful in preventing the plant being built though. Years later, as a member of a special commission from the town I lived in, visited the now completed and operational plant to see if the town could benefit by joining the local collaborative. What I saw brought back memories but I was also awed at the building itself. I expected a huge roar of engines turning and smoke bellowing from tall chimneys. The reverse was true. It was uncanny how relatively quite the plant was from the outside. There were no bellowing smokestacks and the grounds were more likened to a serene park. I was amazed! Inside the plant, the noise was much louder and the process was much busier than the view and quiet from the exterior. Endless trucks poured refuge from nearby towns into huge vats. Constantly moving conveyors separated valuable metals and plastics which were then cleaned, sorted further, chipped into pellets and bundled for sale to metals factories throughout New England.
There, the valuable metals were melted and recycled into useable products. Plastic pellets were shipped to plastic plants and reused as retread tires, credit cards and milk containers. At the end of the tour, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had made a mistake many years before by condemning the plant without proper information before me. Needless to say, the town I was representing bought into the concept and. Within a year, trash collection in the town changed dramatically. The cost of trash removal decreased to almost 40% of what it was the year before. The large, smelly public works yard which formally held the hulking garbage trucks belonging to the town was near empty. The landfill stopped getting higher and after a few years was near gone thanks to the same plant that took the garbage from the streets, started a recycling program and basically cleaned the town. The other phenomenon was that the property taxes in the town stayed level for many years, due mainly to the reduced cost of having to remove garbage, maintenance and labor costs. Oh yes- a large portion of the public works yard became a public playground and tennis court.
Sometimes, we have to stop and think out of the box. What I thought would be the end of the world for the community surrounding this trash plant, turned out to be a blessing for not only that town but for many towns in the area who bought in to the program. This privately funded plant not only got rid of trash but turned a generator which provided power to the town it was located in. This one addition to the plant reduces that town's electric bills by almost half. The plant today continues to burn trash and power the town and has proven to be one profitable venture as well. I should add that the plant has on-site storage of natural gas. It uses this gas to re-start the furnaces in the event of a routine shutdown. Beyond that use of fossil fuel, over 90% of its heat energy comes from trash.
For the 80's this was pretty innovative but since that time, the methods of burning trash have come a long way. Since the 2000, the new technologies have produced even more efficient ways to rid ourselves of trash. Plasma technology has proven to be the energy production method of choice because it breaks everything put into it down to its atomic structure. Literally, no smoke stacks are required. Instead of the separation process, as was the case mentioned above, the "furnace" takes in everything-cars, tires, batteries and even toxic used medical refuse. The result is even more energy with the by-products being even more widely useable and valuable. It also separates the gasses, such as hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen and re-sells this product as well.
I believe that the Virgin Islands could and should start thinking of trash to energy to help alleviate our trash woes and to produce electrical energy. Many would believe, as I did many years ago, that this may further pollute our sensitive environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is we could start reducing the cost of making electricity and at the same time save millions getting rid of our trash. The nicest part-Some companies will build it for free if the land is made available to them. Where? The landfills are the perfect spots. These same builders would eliminate the methane gasses present at the landfills and use it to create even more energy and further, would burn the remaining trash leaving only the dirt used to cover the landfills. This dirt could then be cleaned and re-used for construction projects or replaced where they were quarried. Of course, all the profits from the valuable by-products and energy production would go to the builders but why not? They built it for free!!
Thinking out of the box–not a bad thing at all. Technology has changed significantly in the past 30 years and here in the Virgin Islands, we would be far better off if we utilized it. How about nuclear power? That industry's technological improvements has widened its use in smaller markets. The new popularity of nuclear power has also increased and diversified its use all over the world. Desalination of water and electrical energy are the most common uses but technology advances have even produced a 20-year nuclear battery. The technology is out there, we should be jumping on the bandwagon. More on nuclear power later.

Paul Devine
St. John

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