Solid waste, like the material populating this landfill, can be used to generate electrical energy.

Photograph by Dennis Finley
  • On April 4, 1972, Union Electric Company became the first to generate electrical energy from solid waste, at the Meramec Power Station near St. Louis, Missouri. Using household garbage as a supplement to coal, the plant produced 10 percent of its power from refuse. The city of St. Louis, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Union Electric Company cooperated on the project to demonstrate that using waste as fuel could improve the environment, conserve resources, and be economically feasible.
    In the years since the Meramec power plant first incinerated waste to produce electricity, waste-to-energy initiatives have become popular throughout the world. Today, waste is not the only material burned to produce energy. Byproducts of waste, such as methane gas, are also captured and used as a clean energy source. As the worldwide demand for energy grows, waste-to-energy projects will only grow in importance. They provide an alternative to fossil fuels and have a variety of economic and environmental benefits.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    capture Verb

    to take or control.

    coal Noun

    dark, solid fossil fuel mined from the earth.

    conserve Verb

    to save or use wisely.

    cooperation Noun

    the act of working together.

    demonstrate Verb

    to show how something is done.

    economic Adjective

    having to do with money.

    electricity Noun

    set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge.

    energy Noun

    capacity to do work.

    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    feasible Adjective


    fossil fuel Noun

    coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.

    garbage Noun

    trash or waste material.

    generate Verb

    to create or begin.

    incinerate Verb

    to burn up entirely.

    initiative Noun

    first step or move in a plan.

    methane Noun

    chemical compound that is the basic ingredient of natural gas.

    resource Noun

    available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

    supplement Verb

    to increase or add to.