Case Studies in Earth & Environmental Science Journalism

Burn This? : The Waste-To-Energy Option for Managing NYC Trash.

Questions to Ponder and Discuss


  1. How do waste-to-energy (WTE) plants work? Why is materials recovery an important counterpart to a WTE plant? What is the difference between WTE technology and gasification technology?

  2. How much municipal solid waste does NYC produce each year? How is it currently dealt with, post-Fresh Kills closure?

  3. What are the environmental and health concerns surrounding trash incineration and waste-to-energy plants?

  4. For what other reasons beyond incinerator emissions might residents oppose the siting of a waste-to-energy plant in their community?

  5. Landfills also have environmental and health costs. What are they? How have these costs been increased with the closing of the Fresh Kills landfill?

  6. What are the economic arguments for and against incineration for NYC?


  1. Would you report on the release of the Columbia University analysis on its own? How would you cover it? What information, angles does the report present that news accounts did not pick up on?

  2. From Fat of the Land and older articles, it is obvious that incineration, and even waste-to-energy plants, are not a new proposal for dealing with NYC waste and that it has been highly controversial in the past.

  3. From the Fat of the Land, what role did the media played in past debates over incineration and waste-to-energy plants? Do you see any of the same dynamics in the current articles?

  4. Do any popular articles press incinerator opponents about the environmental and economic costs of their proposed alternatives? How many articles look at all at the environmental costs of WTE in the context of its alternatives? Does this change the way the WTE option comes across?

  5. How does the Waste News article differ in its coverage of the same City Council hearing and press conference from the NY Daily News and NY Times?

  6. How do the two editorials on WTE and the City's waste management plan differ in their tone and argument?

  7. What is unusual about the Kloor City Limits article?


Background information and Scientific Articles:

Columbia University Earth Institute, Earth Engineering Center, and Center for Urban Research and Policy, Life After Fresh Kills: Moving Beyond New York City's Current Waste Management Plan, December, 2001 (selected excerpts)

Miller, Benjamin, Fat of the Land: Garbage in New York, The Last Two Hundred Years, Four Walls, Eight Windows, 2000 (selected excerpts).

Integrated Waste Services Association, Facts About Waste-To-Energy, website: http:/, date unknown.

American Ref-Fuel, Our Process, website,

Covanta Energy, basic technical information on four regional plants, website:

Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, Waste-To-Energy Stack Test Results, 2001, website:

Rylander, Hakan and Joraen Haukohl, Status of WTE in Europe (1 figure), Waste Management World, May-June, 2002.

National Research Council, Waste Incineration and Public Health, Executive Summary, National Academy Press, 1999.

NYS Attorney General's Office, Action Plan for a Balanced Electric Power Policy in New York State, pg. 11-13, March 2001.

New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), New Electricity Demand Forecast Warns of Continued Risk of Energy Crisis if Power Plant Development Lags, press release, March, 2002.

NYISO, Locational Installed Capacity Requirements Study Covering the NYCA for the 2002-2003 Capability Year, pg. 2,4 .

Popular Articles:

Schneider, Keith, Burning Trash for Energy: Is it an Endangered Industry?, New York Times, October 11, 1994.

Martin, Douglas, City's Last Waste Incinerator is Torn Down, New York Times, May 6, 1999.

WNBC News, NYC Seeks New Ways to Dump Trash, February, 20, 2002.

Stohr, Kate, Incinerators, (2002, exact date unknown).

Colangelo, Lisa, Sanit Chief Eyes Burning of City Trash, NY Daily News, March 21, 2002.

Johnson, Kirk, As Options Shrink, New York Revisits Idea of Incineration, New York Times, March 23, 2002.

Truini, Joe, NYC Mayor Weighs WTE, Waste News, April 1, 2002.

Cappiello, Dina, Trash Export Hit 24.2% in 2002, Albany Times Union, May 7, 2002.

Cardwell, Diane, Mayor Drops Incinerator Plan, New York Times, May 18, 2002.

Janison, Dan, Bloomberg: Forget Incinerating Trash, Newsday, May 18, 2002.

New York Times Editorial Page, Trouble With Trash, July 13, 2002.

NY Daily News Editorial Page, Down to the Sea in Garbage Barges, August 1, 2002.

Cohen, Steven, Op-ed: Putting Garbage to Good Use, New York Times, August 15, 2002.

Angotti, Tom, Letter: Trash Into Energy? Not in My Town, New York Times, August 16, 2002.

Tharp, Paul, Trash Talkers Tout Ray-Gun to Zap Rubbish, NY Post, October 20, 2002.

Kloor, Keith, Wretched Refuse, City Limits Magazine, November, 2002.

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