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Where does MacDill's trash go?

  • Published
  • By Eric Vichich
  • 6th Civil Engineer Squadron
MacDill produces more than 4,000 tons of municipal solid waste ("trash") every year.

The Air Force is directed to recycle as much as possible, with the ultimate goal to divert more than half of our waste from traditional "disposal" methods like incineration and landfills.
Most of us know our recyclable plastic, paper, glass, and metal get sorted, processed and manufactured into new products. But what happens to the rest of our trash that doesn't get recycled? Most people refer to our waste as being sent to a landfill, but this is not entirely correct.

All municipal trash from the City of Tampa (including MacDill AFB) is sent to the McKay Bay Refuse-To-Energy facility where waste-fired boilers generate steam that is routed to a turbine generator to make electricity. The remaining ash is then landfilled, although options are being explored to find beneficial uses for this material, including road and commercial construction applications.

The items you throw in the trash can are considered a renewable energy source, ultimately creating enough energy to power 15,000 area homes every year. This reduces our demand for energy created from non-renewable sources such as coal.

When we think of renewable energy, most of us think wind or solar. Surprisingly, Florida's winds are not sufficient to sustain large scale energy projects and solar is not yet cost efficient for most applications. This means trash is one of the best resources we have for creating energy.

The main drawback is the air emissions created during the incineration process. These facilities do not create as much greenhouse gas as traditional power plants burning fossil fuels, but they do produce nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and trace amounts of toxic pollutants and dioxins. The McKay Bay facility uses state-of-the-art technologies, including dry scrubbers, fabric filters, carbon injection, and selective non-catalytic reduction to manage these pollutants.

Remember, our first priority is to REDUCE the amount of waste we produce, followed by REUSING what we can and finally, RECYCLING as much as possible. Rest assured the waste that does make it into your trash can doesn't get wasted at all and ends up being a valuable resource providing electricity for local homes.