Covanta: Powering today, Protecting tomorrow

Agha Sarwar

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covanta power plant
covanta power plant.

Covanta is the worlds’ leading waste to energy(WTE) company. Its headquarters is in New Jersey, United States and has 42 WTE facilities all over the world. Covanta commenced operation of its WTE plant in the Poolbeg area in Dublin 4.

Covanta is the leading waste-to-energy company in the world. It is about developing sustainable solutions for waste management. It converts over 20 million tons of waste per annum and produces enough energy for about one million households per year. In addition, it recovers metal from the processing of the waste. Half million tons of metal recovers in a year which is equivalent to five Golden Gate bridges in San Francisco.

The main mission is to develop sustainable waste management solutions and to ensure that no waste is ever wasted. DWTE is the part of the circular economy which is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life

It is one of the most state of the art waste facilities in the world at the moment –to find out more about Covanta and its operations in Dublin and to see what the company is doing for its local community, I went to see Kieran Mullins, the business manager for the company.

‘Covanta commitment to sustainability’, I saw that line on your website, would you tell me what does that mean?

Commitment to sustainability is ensuring that to use the resources that we already have, and not using the new resources for our needs. We generate electricity here in our plant for which, the waste comes primarily from Dublin.  The waste we use has already been produced and if we didn’t take it, it would go to the landfill where it could take Up to 50 years to decay. We take the waste, incinerate it and convert it into energy.

What is the collaboration between Covanta and Dublin waste-to-energy (DWTE)?

DWTE is the public-private company (PPP). 50% of the company is owned by the Green Investment Group(GIG) and 50% owned by Covanta, with Covanta Europe Operations Ltd. operating the plant for DWTE.

When I was going through your company’s website, I looked at your process as well, but I am not very clear about it, so, how does your process work in here?

Waste comes in on the trucks and gets weighed on the weighbridge. It is tipped on to the tipping floor where the waste is inspected. It is then put into the pit, where the waste gets mixed with other waste that is already in the pit and it’s loaded into a hopper by cranes which feed the incinerator grate. It takes about an hour and a half to be burned and at the end of incineration process, the ash is collected.

Burning the waste produces two types of ash: bottom ash and fly ash. Bottom ash is similar to what you have in your fireplace at home, whereas fly ash is blown up to the boiler and is collected through a dedicated air pollution control system, where we remove out the pollutants.

 You manage to bring so much waste in here, where exactly does the waste come from?

Well, 70% of the waste comes from the Dublin area with the rest coming from Leinster primarily and the remainder from all over Ireland.

 Protecting environment is a major concern these days, why do you think that protecting the environment is important and what is Covanta doing on this particular issue?

Well, the alternatives to what we are doing in this plant are either export the waste or put it into landfill. Yes, in future more and more recycling will happen but also the waste volume will increase. So, waste-to-energy is, I suppose as it stands is an integral part of the circular economy and in 2014/15, over 600,000 tons of waste was exported to other countries where they recover the energy. In addition to that, you had the transportation cost associated with moving that waste abroad. So, effectively we are removing our energy sources from this country. We had to import a quarter of a million tons of oil to compensate for the 600,000 tons of waste that we export. So, by putting in a waste energy plant here in Ireland, it’s both reducing the need for landfill and issues associated with landfill and it minimizes the amount of waste exported from the country.

 Well, that’s impressive, and how much waste are you burning per day and per year on average?

We are burning on average of 600,000 tons per year which is about 1800 tons per day.

 I heard you are generating electricity from this plant, how much electricity are you generating?

We are generating enough for 80,000 homes per annum – producing and exporting 61 megawatts per hour.

I know you have your own fund which is ‘community gain fund’, what is it, and what Covanta has contributed to that fund so far?

Community gain fund is a fund that was put in place as a result of the planning conditions. Planning conditions stipulated that a percentage of capital cost is set aside for the local community to be paid up over the construction period and then as the plan operates one euro per ton of waste must be set aside for the community annually once operation commenced. So, up to date, we have committed over €10.4 million to the community gain fund. Approximately half of the fund is already spent on local schools and clubs around the area. As we are operational now, it will be 600,000 euro per year (indexed linked) for the lifetime of contact which is 45 years, so we are looking at somewhere between 35-40 million euros till the contract ends. The community gain fund is and will be going to the Irishtown, Ringsend, Poolbeg and Sandymount areas: the fund is set up for the community who have a large-scale infrastructure in their community and it is a kind of compensation, to some extent, for having that large infrastructure there.

Mr Mullins, what do you think is important to invest in the community and how many jobs have you created so far, if any?

Well, of course, it is very important. Apart from the fact that we are creating employment in the area – it is important that people do get some sort of benefits from having a facility like this in their area. In total within a 5km radius of the plant, I would say we have about 20 people directly employed and there are 10-15 people working in the plant from the immediate area of the Irishtown.

  People did oppose the plant at the start especially from the local community and some politicians as well, so did you satisfy them on their concern towards this plant?

The plant is 20 years in the making. We had a lot of objections to it. We had some local community people down here and we demonstrated them the plant operations. We have local politicians down her as well. We have shown them how the plant is running, and they get a feel for what we are actually doing here. They saw that there is no huge environment impact as a result of plant operations. The number of waste trucks that we are taking in at the moment is less than what was actually planned.  Our environmental data is on our website, by this people can see what is happening inside the plant and we have tours in and out of the plant, and if people pick up the phone and ask us, we respond them directly.

 I saw smoke comes out of those two giant chimneys, people do show their concern towards that, how do you tell the people that it is safe?

First of all, I will not call it a smoke, what people see coming out of the chimney is steam and it is safe. Our emissions from the plant are averaging at 2% of the emission limit values (as laid down in the Waste Incineration Directive) and set out in our EPA Licence.

 Climate change is a major concern these days and it will change the course of the world in near future if not sorted, do you see any benefit of this waste to energy plant and if yes, then how can you help mitigate the climate change?

Benefits of waste-to-energy are (a) in Ireland we are not exporting our waste (b) we are converting waste into energy and we are not putting it into the landfill (c) waste is gone within an hour and half of being out into the hopper. Landfills take around 50 years to get rid of waste. The other thing is that as I said earlier, it’s an integral part of the circular economy, so even you come to certain point in recycling where it becomes very difficult and expensive to recycle the material, so at that time you need to do something about it – converting it to energy is the next best thing to do.

In terms of contributing to climate change, it is much friendlier than the landfill from the point of view of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. We do not have to deal with the leakages from the landfill. It is all managed within the plant. The emissions from the plant are extremely good –It is one of the most modern waste-to-energy facilities in the world at the moment and our emissions from the stacks are extremely low. So, in that point of view, you are reducing your CO2 emissions compared to a landfill.

Is there a possibility, if somebody is interested in your emission data, to look at it, then how can somebody do that?

Our emissions data are available online at People can also pick up their phone and call us at 01-6032100, or they can email us at for environmental queries.


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Agha Sarwar