Before Irma hit, Florida Department of Environmental Protection staff worked with local governments and facilities to anoint disaster-debris sites, sort of a purgatory for trash before it’s moved to incinerators. (After storms, the DEP coordinates with multiple state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.) Fuel for these incinerator power plants stood at high levels before Irma struck. In anticipation of the hurricane, Miami residents, for example, had doubled the amount of stuff they threw out in the days before it arrived. Already, some county authorities are seeing a spike in solid waste.
Look at Texas and Florida, recovering from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Homeowners and businesses not incapacitated by the storm have begun the arduous and emotional work of separating destroyed possessions and materials by type and placing them curbside. Cities have begun the intimidating logistics of picking it up and transporting it to its final destination.
And what is that destination? Texas’s waste-disposal strategy takes advantage of the state’s vast land. Harris County alone, which includes Houston, has 14 active landfills.
Florida, by contrast, is a peninsula with a longer coastline than any state other than Alaska, and much less room for trash. Many coastal Florida counties burn theirs, with waste incinerators particularly common around the state’s populous southern lip and up the Gulf Coast. It’s a two-fer. Combustion reduces the solid waste to ash, and the heat that’s produced runs steam generators. Much of the waste left in Irma’s path will burn, the energy released adding to local communities’ electricity.