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Is It Time to Stop Burning Our Garbage?

Incineration was once touted as the greener, less invasive alternative to landfills. But a fight in Doral, Florida, over shutting an incinerator shows how times have changed. 

Incinerators dispose of waste by burning it for energy. But are they better than landfills? 

Incinerators dispose of waste by burning it for energy. But are they better than landfills? 

Photographer: bunhill/E+

“Detect a strong putrid odor of rotten garbage in the air.” “Terrible smell!!!! Unbreathable air!!” Thousands of odor complaints like these have been submitted from residents of Doral, Florida, many of them blaming a nearby incinerator for not just the offensive scent, but also respiratory issues from nearby pollution. The facility burns through around 1 million tons of Miami-Dade County’s garbage each year — a relied-upon resource in a county that’s running out of places to dispose of its trash. 

Covanta, the company that runs the facility, says it responds promptly to complaints, deploying technology like smell-neutralizing mists. But with the incinerator’s contract now up for renewal, residents and environmental groups say it’s time to shut it down.