In January of 2011, there was a raffle at the public information session for the Plasco incinerator. Everybody who came got a little ticket for a chance to win a free water bottle or a re-usable grocery bag.
The Plasco incinerator was being planned for construction by the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority in Gonzales, a small town outside of Salinas, California. Gonzales residents first heard about it in a letter included in their utility bill. The notice came three days before the meeting.
At the meeting residents learned that the city had been making plans for such an incinerator since 2008, three years before they got wind of it. In a long presentation, Plasco representatives said that the incinerator was going to be a lovely addition to the town, bringing in added revenue and jobs. They said it didn’t even have any smokestacks because it used plasma gasification technology, so there wouldn’t be any emissions.
Bradley Angel of Green Action was at the meeting and had requested time to speak. He was given a few minutes and said there were definitely going to be smokestacks.
The meeting ended and the Waste Authority and Plasco considered the public informed. Plans went forward for the incinerator, although the community continually expressed concern about the location of the incinerator.
Though no new commercial-scale incinerator has been built in the US for the last 16 years, roughly 100 new project proposals have recently emerged. Many of these projects aren’t calling themselves ‘incinerators,’ instead highlighting that they utilize new and improved technologies – pyrolysis, plasma arc, and gasification. Though they don’t directly burn the waste, instead heating it slowly and burning the resulting gases, they still release the dioxins which are the main concern of people who live where incinerators are going to be located.
Plasco’s plasma gasification technology is still considered incineration by the EPA, and emissions are disputed; companies like Plasco say that emissions are fewer than regular incineration, while activist groups like the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance say they often breach emission limits.
Gonzales residents feel that locating the plant in their town is unfair. They are a small community and already host the landfill for the region. What is more, they produce only 3% of the region’s waste.
As a further obstacle, the community is primarily Spanish-speaking, yet most of the communication regarding planned Plasco facility occurred in English. The first information meeting was hosted in English only, even though more than 80% of audience primarily spoke Spanish. Notifications for later meetings were put out in English and Spanish, although some dates were left off the Spanish notifications. Plasco said this was an oversight. When translation was provided at the meetings, residents said there were never enough headsets. As many as thirty residents did not have access to a headset for translation.
The Plasco incinerator in Gonzales is currently on hold because residents put up quite a fight.