Evaluation of Landfill and Waste-to-Energy Options for Managing Municipal Solid Waste

At a Glance:

Location: Portland Metro region: Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties, Oregon

Date: 2017

Vital Condition: Thriving Natural World

Determinants of Health: clean air, clean water, built environment

Affected Population: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, Children and Youth, Older Adults, People with Chronic and Multiple Chronic Health Conditions, Urban Communities

Research Methods: Quantitative research

Community Types: urban, suburban, rural

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Metro Council of greater Portland, Oregon, commissioned a health impact assessment to evaluate the potential health impacts and benefits of managing 200,000 tons per year of the Metro Region’s municipal solid waste through a waste-to-energy (WTE) facility versus a conventional landfill. In terms of impacts on environmental social determinants of health, such as air and soil quality, vehicle emissions, and surface and groundwater quality, the assessment found no significant difference between the WTE and landfill scenarios. The WTE facility would surpass the generic landfill in energy production. The report’s comparative greenhouse gas analysis produced conflicting findings, relying on two modeling approaches: the Waste Reduction Model (WARM) method and the Municipal Solid Waste Decision Support Tool (MSW-DST) method. Therefore, it was unable to determine which waste management method would produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

The Metro Council ultimately decided to remove the WTE scenario from consideration, citing the increased costs ($60 per ton, versus $25 per ton at a generic landfill) and the HIA report’s inconclusive findings around benefits to human and environmental health.

This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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