U.S. Waste Energy - Statistics & Facts

Waste energy is derived from the primary treatment of waste products that generates energy in the form of electricity, heat or as a combustible fuel commodity, such as ethanol. In 2016, revenue from electricity generated from waste amounted to around 227 million U.S. dollars in the United States. Considered a form of energy recovery, the technological process involved in waste energy generation can be applied to waste materials that are either in liquid (e.g. domestic sewage) or gaseous (e.g. refinery gases) form. In the United States, its most prevalent application is in the processing of municipal solid waste; commonly referred to as “garbage”. In 2014, approximately 258.5 million tons of municipal solid waste was generated in the United States.

The process of energy generation from municipal solid waste is done through the process of incineration in combined heat and power plants or in landfills. The first U.S. incinerator was built in 1885 on Governors Island in New York and, as at 2016, the number of waste-to-energy facilities in the United States stood at 77.

Municipal solid waste usually consists of biomass materials like paper, wood, cardboard, leather products, food scraps, grass and leaves from yard trimmings. It can also be made up of non-biomass combustible materials like plastics and other synthetic materials derived from petroleum. In 2016, over 386 trillion British thermal units of energy were derived from biomass energy consumption in the United States. Paper and paperboard are the highest selected materials generated from the municipal waste stream in the United States. A number of new and emerging technologies also exist that are able to generate energy from waste but without the need for direct combustion. These include the use of thermal technologies, like gasification or non-thermal ones, like fermentation.

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