Beyond Incineration: Best Waste Management Strategies for Montgomery County, Maryland

Zero Waste Montgomery County

Covanta's trash incinerator in Montgomery County, Maryland is the largest air industrial polluter in the county, by far. In March 2021, we released the report, "Beyond Incineration: Best Waste Management Strategies for Montgomery County, Maryland" to support the county's commitment to end incineration.

In support of our member group, Sugarloaf Citizens' Association, we worked with them and other local environmental leaders forming Zero Waste Montgomery County to issue this report and to advocate for its recommendations.

This detailed report documents how incineration is worse than landfilling, analyses the alternatives, and recommends what the county should do. It debunks pro-incinerator propaganda by Covanta and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Find the report here:

The powerpoint with overview slides is here:

What Planet of the Humans got Right, Wrong, and Missed

by Mike Ewall, Executive Director, Energy Justice Network

[See related interview here.]

If I were to write a documentary exposing the dismal state of recycling in the U.S., I'd be right to point out how much is not being recycled, how polluting recycling can be, and how inadequate it is to try to solve the waste problem. I'd be right to call for more emphasis on reducing and reusing before recycling; however, I'd also be clear that the answer is not to stop recycling and just landfill everything, or worse, incinerate it, then landfill toxic ash.

Planet of the Humans trashes wind, solar, biomass, biofuels, hydrogen, electric cars, and energy storage as if they're all terrible, without offering solutions, and without distinguishing which are inherently bad, and which are generally good and can continue to be improved. It's basically a sales pitch for Ozzie Zehner's 2012 Green Illusions book (which you can find free online here).

There is a lot that Planet of the Humans gets right. And several things they get really wrong. Sadly, the film is now being used to hype up natural gas and nuclear power.

Let's be clear.

The film was right to...

The film got it wrong about...

The film missed a lot, too. Notably...

Before diving into all the rights, wrongs, and missings, let's quickly point out a few things:

  1. There are three sectors of energy consumption: electricity, transportation, and heating. The film mostly focuses on electricity, and each sector is handled with a pretty different mix of fuels. See our page on U.S. energy sources for context.
  2. When discussing solutions, electricity needs should be met first by conservation, then efficiency, then solar, wind, and perhaps some ocean-based solutions once they're ready. A modest amount of energy storage will be needed to balance it all. The transportation and heating fuel sectors need to be solved with conservation and efficiency first and second as well. For transportation, the rest should be electrified as much as possible. Planes and boats will be a challenge, but all land-based transportation needs to run on electricity from wind and solar. For heating, solar thermal, heat pumps, and electrification should meet as much demand as possible. Industrial heating will be a challenge and should mainly be tackled by reducing demand for energy intensive products like paper and cement. No solid fuels should be burned in any case. In overconsuming nations like the U.S., we should be cutting energy and material use at least by half.

  3. There's a world of difference between energy sources that require fuel and those that do not. Wind, solar, and water power are genuinely renewable, even though they have impacts. Other energy sources -- nuclear, hydrogen, and anything that involves burning anything (fossil fuels, biomass and waste incineration, biofuels) -- require a constant stream of extraction, consumption, pollution, and waste. The machines for every type of power involve mining of materials and various pollution and health impacts. However, for genuine renewables, that damage largely stops once the machine is built, and there isn't ongoing pollution per kilowatt-hour. This is the main dividing line we use to distinguish clean from dirty energy sources.


Biomass, biofuels, and hydrogen are false solutions

Energy Justice Network was featured in the section on biomass, from an interview eight years ago with our former staff member, Josh Schlossberg. Jeff Gibbs was part of our national Anti-Biomass Incineration Campaign, which brought together hundreds of community activists to successfully stop several dozen proposed biomass incinerators between 2006 and 2015.

Baltimore Passes Local Clean Air Act!

Wheelabrator Baltimore trash incinerator; Photo credit: Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun

Our years of work in Baltimore are paying off!

On March 7, 2019, the Baltimore's Mayor Pugh signed into law our Baltimore Clean Air Act. This is the culmination of years of work to close the highly polluting waste incinerators in the city. It's also a new phase in our ongoing work to transition Baltimore from incineration to zero waste and clean energy.

Since June 2017, Baltimore City Council passed four unanimous resolutions calling for a transition from incineration to zero waste. On November 19th, 2018, Baltimore City Council introduced our Baltimore Clean Air Act, and on January 30th, the Land Use and Transportation Committee unanimously approved it with a 7-0 vote! It passed City Council unanimously on Feb. 11th, 2019 and, as of the mayor's signing on March 7th, is now law.

This new law will force the city's largest air polluter (the Wheelabrator Baltimore trash incinerator) and the nation's largest medical waste incinerator (Curtis Bay Energy) to abide by the nation's strictest standards or shut down.

Wheelabrator Baltimore burns up to 2,250 tons of trash per day and is the largest air polluter in (heavily industrialized) Baltimore by far, responsible for 36% of the city's industrial air pollution. Curtis Bay Energy burns about 70 tons of medical waste per day, importing medical waste from 20 states plus DC and Canada! It's one of a small number of medical waste incinerators remaining in the nation, since over 6,000 closed in the U.S. as hospitals have moved toward cheaper and safer non-burn alternatives.

The Baltimore Clean Air Act requires that these incinerators meet the most protective standards in North America for nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), mercury and dioxin pollution from incinerators. It also requires that they continuously monitor 20 different air pollutants and release the data on this pollution real-time to a public website.

On April 30th, 2019, Wheelabrator, Curtis Bay Energy, and two waste industry trade associations sued Baltimore City to stop the law, using legal arguments that the city’s Law Department previously described as “demonstratively false.” They claim that the city doesn’t have the authority to pass such a law, even though federal and state law clearly permit it. The city’s case is strong, and we look forward to a positive court precedent in early 2020! Check out the filings in the lawsuit, including our advice to the court. In late January 2020, the City agreed to pause implementation of the law, which was to take effect in September 2020, pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Find more info about the Act at

If you're in Baltimore and have noticed Wheelabrator's many desperate mailings opposing the Clean Air Act, please see our responses here.

We encourage other communities to follow Baltimore's lead and work with us to develop local ordinances to hold polluters accountable (and prevent new ones) in your town. Check out our resources on stopping polluters with local ordinances, and be in touch!

Will New Hampshire Ratepayers be Forced to Pay More for Dirty Energy?

New Hampshire legislators will be voting on September 13, 2018 on whether to override the governor's veto of SB365, a bill that would provide $68 million in subsidies to seven of the state's 13 largest industrial air polluters: the trash incinerator in Concord, and six tree-burning "biomass" incinerators. This would raise the rates of Eversource and Unitil customers by at an estimated $60-75/year (and possibly as much as $120/year), according to state agencies. There is no clean energy in this bill -- only dirty energy subsidies. Please help stop us SB 365, by taking action below.

See our new factsheet: The Double Cost of Biomass Incineration - factsheet on how New Hampshire Senate Bill 365 would subsidize seven uneconomical biomass and trash incinerators in the state, hitting our health AND pocketbooks.

Incinerators are the biggest polluters in nearly half of New Hampshire's counties:

Senate Bill 365 would force Unitil and Eversource customers to pay about $60 more per year according to the bill's own analysis by the NH Public Utility Commission. See pages 6-8 here. The state's Office of Consumer Advocate has indicated it could be as much as twice that amount.

This is to protect seven uneconomical incinerators, six that burn trees, and one in Concord that burns trash, feeding many millions per year to these companies. These facilities are among the state's 13 largest air polluters. Spread throughout half of the state's counties, most are the largest air polluters in their counties, by far. See the factsheet for details.


  1. Sign onto this alert to email your state representatives.
  2. Follow up with a phone call to your state representatives, asking them NOT to override the veto on SB 365.
    Find your reps here.

  3. If you're on Facebook, or other social media, please share this video!

Groups opposing SB 365:

  • Action Collaborative for Transition to Sustainability Now (ACTS Now)
  • Energy Justice Network
  • Partnership for Policy Integrity
  • Seacoast Anti-Pollution League
  • Sierra Club - NH Chapter
  • Toxics Action Center Campaigns
  • Working on Waste

For more background on trash and biomass incineration, see this recent article summarizing biomass health impacts on workers and communities, our Woody Biomass Factsheet, our biomass page and our trash incineration page.

Connecticut: Don't replace incineration with more burning!

Hartford incineratorHartford, Connecticut is home to an aging and very polluting trash incinerator that the state would like to close. This state-run incinerator serves 70 Connecticut towns and is the county's second largest air polluter. Shutting it down is a great idea, but...

Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) only considered three proposals to replace the incinerator -- all of which involved more incineration!

Crayola: Burning Plastic Markers is NOT Recycling!

Click to take action!

Crayola ColorCycle program: Burning markers is NOT recycling!


In 2012, a group of elementary school students started a Crayola: Make Your Mark! petition calling for Crayola to "make sure these markers don't end up in our landfills, incinerators and oceans."  The petition gathered over 90,000 petition signers.  In 2013, Crayola launched their ColorCycle program, but won't admit that the student campaign was the catalyst for this program.

Crayola initially sent these markers to JBI's "plastics to oil" facility in Niagara, New York.  This experimental operation closed down in December 2013 and remains idle, with the company claiming financial reasons (as have similar companies trying this failed plastics pyrolysis technology).

Crayola admits that its whole markers are not recyclable.  They refuse to disclose which companies or facilities are processing the markers collected in their "ColorCycle" program, but claim that their "ColorCycle program repurposes the entire marker and turns it into reusable alternatives such as oil, electricity and wax."

Burning is NOT recycling!

Crayola admits that their initial plastics-to-oil scheme didn't work out, yet is still pursuing polluting and experimental incineration and pyrolysis schemes in communities they refuse to name.

Plastics-to-oil technology (pyrolysis) is very experimental, with various small demonstration facilities usually failing for technical and/or economic reasons, as JBI did.  Pyrolysis is similar to incineration in that it's expensive and polluting, destroying materials, releasing toxins and waste products, and creating new toxic chemicals in the process.

Crayola also indicates that they're sending "ColorCycled" markers to be burned in trash incinerators.  They state that they're using them to "generate electricity in the United States" and refer to "Energy from Waste plants," pretending that they "are a clean, reliable, and renewable source of energy that produces electricity with little environmental impact."  This can only describe trash incinerators, most of which have rebranded themselves as "waste to energy" or "energy from waste" facilities.

In fact, trash incinerators are the most expensive and polluting way to manage waste or to make energy -- dirtier than coal power plants, and dirtier than landfills.  They turn waste into toxic ash (which goes to landfills, anyway) and toxic air pollution.  They release pollutants like nitrogen oxides, lead, mercury, and dioxin that contribute to ADHD, asthma, birth defects, cancer, learning disabilities, reduced IQ, violent behavior and many other health problems.  This is not what a company should be doing if they "believe every child should have a healthy planet for their creative todays and tomorrows" as they claim.

In fact, the elementary school students who initially demanded marker recycling from Crayola specifically called for "Crayola to make sure these markers don't end up in our landfills, incinerators and oceans."

It's time for Crayola to come clean.  Please sign this petition demanding that Crayola:

  • be transparent about the specific facilities and processes where their ColorCycled markers are going,
  • immediately stop supporting trash incinerators and incinerator-like pyrolysis schemes,
  • redesign their markers so that they're refillable and 100% recyclable, and
  • actually recycle the markers they collect.

Please email or call Mike at 215-436-9511 with any questions.

Our first victory of 2017! Hazardous waste incinerator defeated in the heart of gasland.

On March 29th, 2017, a rural township in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, passed a local clean air law based on one we drafted for them in June 2016. It may be the first in the country to contain a "citizen suit" provision, allowing any Township resident or taxpayer to sue to enforce the ordinance if the government isn't doing its job.

On January 10th, Tyler Corners LP nixed their plans for a hazardous waste incinerator in New Milford Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania due in part to a "cold public reception."

In 2014, we helped defeat a related hazardous waste incinerator proposal by "Route 13 Bristol Partners LP" for Bristol Township, Bucks County, PA. Right after that, the same players started working to relocate in Susquehanna County, the heavily fracked rural community in northeastern Pennsylvania from where the Gasland film came. In this latest effort, they were joined by businessman Louis DeNaples, well known as a powerful organized crime figure in the region and owner of a landfill near Scranton.

Pennsylvania College Students Tell Wolf: No New Pipelines, Green Jobs Now

On Monday, students from 19 Pennsylvania colleges and universities delivered a statement to Governor Tom Wolf's Capitol office demanding no new natural gas pipelines and immediate investment in green jobs.

The students are attending Pennsylvania Student Power Spring Break near Harrisburg, an alternative spring break program for students working on social, economic, and environmental justice issues across the state.

Incinerator Victory in Muncy, Pennsylvania!

Just in time for the holidays, residents of the rural town of Muncy, PA just had their local borough council pass into law a set-back distance ordinance we wrote. It prohibits any new facilities requiring a state air pollution or waste permit from locating within 900 feet of an occupied dwelling, school, park, or playground.

This effectively blocks Delta Thermo Energy, a company we've been fighting for several years, having stopped them in 2014 from locating in the City of Allentown, PA. They planned to take 100-200 tons per day of trash and sewage sludge, turn it into "fuel pellets" through a "hydrothermal decomposition" process, then incinerate these waste pellets on-site. Of course, their magical process exploits an EPA loophole, allowing this waste not to be considered a waste anymore, so they can be regulated less strictly -- as a boiler or power plant, not as an incinerator.

They came to Muncy, PA in the summer of 2016, proposing the same, but after facing resistance, the proposal soon became one to just make the pellets, and market them to be burned in coal power plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. EPA's Clean Power Plan, and their Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials ("waste = fuel") rule incentivize this. While the Clean Power Plan is dead for now, the other incentives may continue, and could encourage coal plants to stay open longer than they otherwise would, and become dirtier by starting to burn waste without additional pollution controls.

Delta Thermo Energy has been unusually tenacious. Most companies give up after one or a few times being rejected. We expect to have to beat them again soon, as rumor has it that they may be looking at more sites near Muncy. They brag about having 22 local governments interested between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and we know of several that have already rejected them. Keep an eye out, and be in touch with us if they (or any other polluters) are coming your way!

Don't try this at home... without our help.

We'd love to work with other communities to get protective local ordinances passed to stop proposed or potential polluters, or to even set stricter requirements for existing facilities where possible. Please be in touch if you'd like to work together on this approach in your community. Do not simply copy ordinances we've had passed elsewhere. While most of the Muncy ordinance is as we proposed, some good things were removed or kept out, and it could have been stronger in some regards. Every community is different, so feel free to check out the resources we have on stopping polluters with local ordinances, but contact us to help develop a strategy that makes sense for your situation. Thanks!