Wheelabrator visit provides info, background
Please don’t call it an incineration plant.
Just as “bowling alleys” are now “bowling centers” and “stewardesses” are “flight attendants,” the venue where much of our garbage is processed has a name that, well in this case, more accurately reflects its mission.
The Wheelabrator Technologies property in Davie offered tours of its “waste-to-energy facility” on Thursday, and I took them up on their offer to provide information on one facet of the county’s complex trash disposal challenge.
The property, at 4400 S. State Road 7, serves 19 of Broward’s 31 municipalities, including Plantation.
The property has been operating for about 30 years, as post-recycled waste into electricity, while also protecting the environment. (The process involves a heck of a lot of heat, with temperatures reaching 2,200 degrees, and a sophisticated control room that monitors the facility to safeguard health and the environment.)
A tour guide took us through the specifics of how 2,250 tons of waste per day are processed:
Trucks enter the property and are weighed, and the waste tonnage is recorded and billed to the assigned municipality. (That’s called a “tipping” fee.) The trucks then empty the contents. Then sorters, operating huge claws (way bigger than Chuck E. Cheese versions) place contents into fuel hoppers.
The control room monitor then confirms that there’s enough materials to continue. (Trash collected during particularly rainy days, for example, takes longer to process.)
The hot air produced in the process passes through a water boiler, where it is converted into high-pressure steam, which then drives a highly efficient turbine to create electricity. Wheelabrator says it powers 38,510 homes.
Residue is filtered out along the way and ash and metals (byproducts of the facility) can be reused and recycled.
Why does this matter to you?
Well, Broward County is growing. We’re at about 1.9 million people now and may top out at about 2.5 million. We are nearing capacity for processing all trash, and, if you haven’t been following, there’s talk of building our own solid waste, including recycling, facilities because the bottom dropped out of the markets and China and other countries are no longer taking our recyclables.
So as need goes up, cost goes up, capacity diminishes, and those costs, ultimately are passed on to you.
Overall, I look at three big county-wide challenges – water, trash and transportation – that are only going to be exacerbated as our county population continues to increase. All three words often elicit yawns when reported by news outlets; but they’re not going away. So I ask for everyone to be as informed as possible. There’s a whole lot that went on before you turned on your faucet, and, conversely, a whole lot going on after that truck drives off with whatever you placed out last night on your curb.
My visit to Wheelabrator comes only three days after I attended a meeting in Sunrise that involved elected officials and administration from all of Broward’s municipalities, as well as Broward’s county commissioners. The occasion was to outline the next steps in creating our own venue for recycling.
If you remember, Plantation joined most other cities in supporting a plan to address recycling. A total of cities accounting for at least 51 percent of the county’s population was required to get the go-ahead; the figure came in closer to 75 percent. People understand we can’t just ship off our recyclables anymore.
Broward League of Cities President Daniel Stermer (Weston’s mayor) and county commissioner Beam Furr led the presentation, which has some urgency because there is a State mandate that 75 percent of our materials be recycled by 2020. (We’re not even at 15 percent right now.) Options included building a fourth “waste-to-energy” unit at Wheelabrator (there currently are three) in some form of a public-private partnership or creating another entire, county-operated facility similar to Wheelabrator, which would of course be much more costly.
Monday’s meeting was just about how to create a board representing everyone – that would then create proposals that would then be voted on.
In other words, there’s a really, really long way to go.
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