Health hazard or innovation in recycling? Proposed plant in Sandy proves polarizing

Posted at 10:13 PM, Jan 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-23 00:13:08-05

SANDY, Utah -- The city of Sandy is on the forefront of turning waste into renewable energy, and a new business is being proposed that would make Sandy the first city in the country to recycle all of their trash.

"The beauty of this is we have the possibility of being a total recycling city with absolutely no cost to tax payers," said Nicole Martin, Communications Director for Sandy.

Martin is referring to Navitus Sustainable Industries. The city is leasing the California-based company three and a half acres of land behind their public works building. The plan is for them to build a plant that would burn an estimated 350 tons of garbage per day into methane natural gas and use it to generate electricity.

"It reduces our trips to the landfill, and for us that takes cars off the road, which reduces emissions," Martin said.

Navitus Sustainable Industries would also accept all the trash all at once. That means residents would no longer have to separate their trash into separate containers, like recycling or compost.

This will be the first waste-to-energy plant Navitus Sustainable Industries opens, and one of only a handful of such facilities to be attempted across the country.

"For a long time, people have done the 'out of sight, out of mind,' but there is no reason," said Navitus CEO and President Heidi Thorn. "We have the technology to be able to take something that is a real problem and turn it into a solution."

However, skeptics said it's too good to be true and the plant could do more harm than good.

"We think it is potentially a real serious health hazard," said Dr. Brian Moench, President for Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. "We think it actually violates state law because it really is an incinerator by definition of state law and the EPA."

Moench was one of dozens of people at a public meeting hosted by the Department of Environmental Quality Thursday night to discuss the project.

Some residents question whether Sandy is on the cutting edge, or is more of a Guinea pig in a risky science experiment.

"We don't feel like the state should be approving a facility that has not demonstrated this technology to be safe and successful anywhere else in the country," Moench said.

Navitus must receive the proper air permits by the state in order to start construction. Right now, the state expects emissions from the plant to be 70 to 90 percent lower than federal standards.

"There will be a lot of people who will be watching and looking, who will be doing the same thing, this is the wave of the future," Thorn said.

Indications are the DEQ will be approving the air permits for the plant. A final decision will not be made until the public comment portion concludes February 4.

If granted approval, construction of the plant would begin in the summer of 2015.