Waste Incinerators Undermine Clean Energy Goals

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. The published version of this Preprint is available: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pclm.0000100. This is version 1 of this Preprint.

Add a Comment

You must log in to post a comment.


There are no comments or no comments have been made public for this article.


Download Preprint


Neil V. Tangri 


A national clean energy standard, modeled upon existing state-level Renewable Portfolio Standards, has been proposed to decarbonize the U.S. electric grid. Most such state policies include municipal solid waste incineration as a form of “renewable” energy, despite incineration’s prominent role in perpetuating environmental injustice. This study finds that incinerators emit more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity produced than any other power source. They also emit more criteria air pollutants than replacement sources of energy. Incineration’s inclusion in “renewable” or “clean” energy standards is thus counterproductive, as they also divert more than $40 million in subsidies annually from cleaner energy sources. As the electric grid decarbonizes, these disparities will only grow. With most U.S. incinerators nearing their end of life, policy choices about their eligibility for subsidies may well decide whether they shut down or undertake expensive capital improvements to continue operating. A rapid shutdown of existing incinerators would help decarbonize the electric grid and reduce criteria air pollution, particularly in environmental justice communities.




Climate, Oil, Gas, and Energy


Greenhouse gas emissions, Waste incineration


Published: 2021-02-03 10:13


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

Additional Metadata

Conflict of interest statement:
The author is employed at GAIA, a non-profit advocacy organization that campaigns for zero waste and against the burning of waste in incinerators. The analysis and opinions stated in the paper are entirely the author’s own.