All Wheelabrator facilities including our waste-to-energy facilities, waste fuel facilities, ash monofills, metal recovery operations and development projects are subject to a myriad of environmental regulations. The waste-to-energy industry is one of the most stringently regulated industries in the US and is why Wheelabrator's waste-to-energy plants use some of the most advanced air quality controls and emission and performance monitoring technology required to meet federal, state, and local requirements.
Wheelabrator's UK facilities, including those that are operational and those that are still in development, are regulated under Environmental Permits awarded by the Environment Agency (EA) or Natural Resources Wales (NRW), to ensure we operate our facilities without harming people or the environment and will fully comply with strict environmental laws. Wheelabrator's UK facilities not only meet the accepted standards for emissions (set by the European Union under the Waste Incineration Directive, now covered by the industrial Emissions Directive) and the terms of our Environmental Permits, they also undertake additional monitoring in conjunction with local councils.
Environmental Management Systems (EMS)
Wheelabrator’s comprehensive Environmental Management System (EMS) is rigorously implemented at all plants through training and operating practices. This system strictly manages compliance with all applicable environmental laws and regulations, as well as Wheelabrator’s environmental policy and practices. Wheelabrator's EMS is consistent with ISO-14001 certification requirements, which ensures environmental excellence can be maintained throughout our operations. The EMS identifies all compliance tasks, audits the actions of internal and external personnel, and regularly reports detailed system metrics to company senior management. As a result, EMS has helped drive year-over-year compliance improvements at Wheelabrator facilities using the following practices and procedures:
- Wheelabrator's Environmental Handbook: Details employees’ environmental stewardship responsibilities and best environmental practices
- Wheelabrator Environmental: Sets out the companies’ commitments to environmental protection, compliance with all requirements and conservation of resources
- Enviro.BLR: A dynamic database service that provides access to all current regulations applicable to Wheelabrator facilities. The service automatically provides notifications of changes and amendments to relevant regulations to ensure environmental managers are aware and can take appropriate action to ensure continuing compliance
- Mandatory Training and Environmental Contacts: Includes specific training programs and monthly environmental contacts for plant personnel for environmental protection and compliance awareness
- KMI: A proprietary web-based EMS compliance system that is used to track and verify that all permit and regulatory requirements are being met
- Independent Environmental Audits: Third-party environmental auditors and outside experts are used to independently verify compliance status of facilities and report findings to senior management
- Environmental Scorecard: Used by senior-level management to review compliance objectives, targets, and metrics for each of Wheelabrator’s plants on a weekly basis
All Wheelabrator’s US facilities are subject to federal, state and local emission limits, operating standards and monitoring, record-keeping and reporting requirements. Waste-to-energy facilities must meet some of the most stringent emission limits of any power generation sector in the form of Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards mandated by the Federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.
All Wheelabrator facilities operate under Title V operating permits issued by the states for 5-year terms with permit administration and enforcement subject to oversight by the EPA. Title V permits provide a compendium of all federal, state and local air regulatory requirements with comprehensive monitoring, record-keeping and reporting requirements to ensure compliance. Plant managers are required annually to certify compliance with all terms and conditions of their TV permit and report any deviations. Title V permits must be renewed every five years subject to state and EPA approval and public review and comment.
Most Wheelabrator facilities yield “zero discharge” of waste water. This means that all waste waters produced at the facility are collected, cleaned and re-used in the process. No industrial waste waters are discharged into the environment.
The US Environmental Protection Agency publishes a “waste management hierarchy” ranking waste-to-energy as a more environmentally sound practice than simply landfilling solid waste. The waste-to-energy process generates electrical power from the waste. It also reduces the solid waste volume by 90 percent, which greatly conserves landfill space.
Waste-to-energy facilities use combustion to convert trash into clean, renewable electricity. In the US, the combustion process produces an ash residue that is disposed of in a monofill.
In accordance with federal law, waste-to-energy ash is tested to ensure it is non-hazardous. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed an aggressive test called the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure to determine if metals will leach from the material. If metals leach in amounts greater than a fraction of a percent, the ash is considered hazardous. Years of testing ash from every waste-to-energy facility in the country have proven that ash is safe for disposal and even reuse. Waste-to-energy ash consistently passes the EPA test, despite the fact that the test greatly exaggerates the potential for metals to leach from ash.
While monofill wastewater is regulated as an industrial discharge, test results and measurements taken from operating ash monofills show the levels of metals present in the actual ash leachate are most often below the significantly more restrictive drinking water standards and far lower than the EPA toxicity criteria.
When trash is combusted in a waste-to-energy facility, the resulting ash represents about 10 percent of the volume of the original trash. Metals, such as iron, steel, copper and zinc are recovered from the ash at the facility and sent to be recycled into new metal products, leaving a residue that looks a lot like wet cement. This residue actually has physical properties similar to construction mixtures such as concrete. After a short time, the ash "cures" and resembles concrete.
But disposal is not the only option. Nearly three million tons of ash, or more than one-third of all residues, are being reused annually as landfill roadbed materials, daily and final landfill cover, road aggregate, asphalt-mixture, and even cement blocks.