Is recycling paper is a good thing? Seems the answer should be yes, but in Merriam Park, St. Paul, local residents are up in arms over a recycling plant in their midst.
Rock-Tenn, a Norcross, GA company, owns a 42-acre paper recycling plant at Highway 94 and Cretin Avenue in St Paul that recycles almost all of Minnesota's paper. The plant used to be powered by the steam generated as a byproduct from coal burning at the nearby Xcel Energy High Bridge power plant. In the summer of 2007 the High Bridge plant switched from coal to natural gas, a cleaner burning fuel which doesn't produce steam.
Now the High Bridge plant is cleaner, the irony is that without the steam, Rock-Tenn needs to find another way to power their plant. The choice of an acceptable alternative is proving difficult.
Rock-Tenn wants to burn Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) which, as the name suggests, is made from household garbage. Glass and ferrous metals are removed from the trash, then is it shredded and processed into a fluffy, flammable product to be incinerated. Opponents of the plant, most vocally a grassroots group called Neighbors Against The Burner (NAB), expressed serious concerns about emissions from burning RDF.
Rock-Tenn says that the garbage turned into RDF is properly screened to remove any hazardous substances, and the emissions from incineration are suitably processed to reduce pollutants to EPA standards. Rock-Tenn also claims that RDF is the only fuel economically viable for the plant in the long term.
Neighbors Against The Burner contend that it's impossible to remove every hazardous item from garbage, such as non-ferrous metals like toxic mercury and cadmium present in many consumer goods, and that the EPA standards are not sufficient to protect the health of those in the vicinity of the plant.
Nancy Cohen, a veteran activist and resident of Merriam Park, founded NAB when she discovered the plant's plans to burn RDF. The group is gathering information on alternatives to RDF and sends representatives to attend and protest at government meetings. They hold community events to raise local awareness, and judging by the amount of NAB's lawn signs dotted about Merriam Park, they have a lot of community support.
But the problem remains for Rock Tenn. And NAB too. What's an acceptable alternative fuel?Various solutions have been proposed, such as burning wood waste, biomass such as corn stover or grasses grown for fuel, or going back to fossil fuels like coal or natural gas. All have their own benefits and problems. Trucking in fuel would bring a large amount of heavy truck traffic and truck pollution to the Twin Cities. Wood waste is a highly seasonal product. Rock Tenn says natural gas, generally accepted to be the cleanest burning, is too expensive.
NAB haven't been able to propose a suitable alternative fuel. They insist that Rock-Tenn can improve current energy efficiency at the St Paul plant, and investing in conservation measures would significantly reduce the plant's energy needs. NAB's position is that the plant should continue to burn natural gas until an economic and environmentally friendly solution is found.
So is recycling paper a good thing? Hopefully the answer is yes, but it seems that it isn't a simple as tossing the cereal packets in the special bin and setting it out once a week.