Sustainable Development Goals

Organizations Involved:
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority (LCSWMA), GPU Energy, Martin, Covanta
Feasibility Study, Due Diligence Services, CSR Education Plan

 The Challenge:

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the total generation of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2018 was 292.4 million tons (U.S. short tons, unless specified) or 4.9 pounds per person per day. Of the MSW generated, approximately 69 million tons were recycled, and 25 million tons were composted. Together, almost 94 million tons of MSW were recycled and composted, equivalent to a 32.1 percent recycling and composting rate. An additional 17.7 million tons of food were managed by other methods. The amount of MSW combusted with energy recovery was 34.6 million tons, while the amount of MSW sent to landfills was 146.2 million tons.

Presented below are details of these trends:

  • Over the last few decades, the generation and management of MSW has changed substantially. The generation of MSW increased (except in recession years) from 88.1 million tons in 1960 to 292.4 million tons in 2018. Generation decreased by 1 percent between 2005 and 2010, followed by a rise in the generation of 7 percent from 2010 to 2017. Generation rose from 268.7 million tons to 292.4 million tons in 2018, mainly as a result of EPA’s inclusion of additional food management pathways.
  • The generation rate in 1960 was just 2.68 pounds per person per day. It increased to 3.66 pounds per person per day in 1980. In 2000, it reached 4.74 pounds per person per day and then decreased to 4.69 pounds per person per day in 2005. The generation rate was 4.9 pounds per person per day in 2018, an 8 percent increase from 2017. The increase from 2017 to 2018 is mainly the result of the EPA’s inclusion of additional wasted food management pathways.
  • Over time, recycling and composting rates have increased from just over 6 percent of MSW generated in 1960 to about 10 percent in 1980 to 16 percent in 1990, to about 29 percent in 2000, and to about 35 percent in 2017. It decreased to 32.1 percent in 2018.
  • The amount of MSW combusted with energy recovery increased from zero in 1960 to 14 percent in 1990. In 2018, it was about 12 percent.
  • Landfilling of waste has decreased from 94 percent of the amount generated in 1960 to 50 percent of the amount generated in 2018.

The Solution:

The Lancaster County Resource Recovery Facility, located on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Bainbridge, PA, began commercial operation in May 1991. The 56-acre facility processes 1,200 tons per day of solid waste, which generates 35.7 megawatts of renewable energy that is sold to GPU Energy. The facility is a "zero discharge" facility, meaning that all the wastewater generated on-site is treated and reused in the waste management process. Covanta Lancaster also uses secondary sewage treatment runoff from a nearby treatment plant for all of its process water. As part of the facility, there is a public drop-off center where residents can bring non-hazardous household items for disposal. Covanta has an operating agreement with the facility's owner, the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority (LCSWMA).

LCSWMA manages the trash and recyclable materials from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania homes and businesses, as well as trash from the City of Harrisburg and surrounding Dauphin County communities. Once the waste is delivered by private haulers, LCSWMA employs a multi-step approach to disposal and processing, called an Integrated System. This Integrated System not only saves significant landfill capacity but also creates clean, renewable energy.

The Outcome:

This facility has been in operation for 31 years and primarily serves the sustainable waste management needs of Lancaster County. The integrated system includes a consolidation and transfer complex, a county-wide recycling program, Household Hazardous Waste Facility, a waste-to-energy site, and a landfill. The Lancaster WTE Facility has also been recognized as a Star worksite in the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). VPP Star status is the highest honor given to worksites with comprehensive, successful safety and health management systems. In addition to the facility being a shining example of advanced thermal treatment of municipal solid waste, this facility illustrates how important waste to energy is in providing an integrated solution to waste management. The following benefits are realized.

  • A 90% reduction in waste volumes saves landfill capacity and preserves land;
  • The facility has processed 10 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), the equivalent of more than 600 football fields filled 10 feet deep;
  • It produced 5.6 million megawatt-hours of electricity, enough to supply all the homes in Lancaster for more than 21 years;
  • It has recovered over 180,000 tons of ferrous metal for recycling, equivalent to more than two Golden Gate Bridges; 
  • It has the capacity to process and produce enough renewable energy to power more than 30,000 homes continuously; 
  • The facility's greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating the creation of methane if the waste had been landfilled; and
  • The facility offsets the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions of more than 1.9 million passenger cars on the road for one year.

Today, it is estimated that 70 advanced thermal treatment plants operating in 21 states consume about 13% of the nation’s trash, down from a peak of 14.5% in 1990. Cumulatively waste-to-energy plants offer roughly 2.5 gigawatts of power in return, less than a tenth of what the U.S. solar industry produces.

This project addresses the SDGs by taking into account the following goals and associated targets. It contributes to ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns by coming up with a sustainable waste treatment framework (Goal 12). Through a safe and inclusive waste disposal system, the SDG strives to protect ecosystems and prevent biodiversity loss (Goal 15).