Environmental Benefits of Recycling: Coal Combustion Products

In addition to providing good engineering and physical qualities, as well as economic benefit, recycling of Coal Combustion Products (CCPs) provides many environmental benefits. CCPs result from the generation of electricity by burning coal as fuel in power plants. The production of coal ash can only be avoided by the conversion of these major sources of clean electrical energy to more expensive alternate fuels. Society should benefit from these Products of power generation (which will be produced whether they are recycled or not) by using these high quality, readily available, and abundant products in lieu of mining additional virgin materials. Increased usage of CCPs, whose production amounts to over 13 million tons in Texas each year, would protect valuable natural resources while decreasing the stress on the environment.

  • Energy can be saved by reducing fossil fuel consumption required to produce competing products such as cement, lime, and crushed stone, and to mine products such as gypsum, limestone, sand, clay, and gravel. For example, each ton of Fly Ash used to replace a ton of cement saves the equivalent of one barrel of oil required to produce the cement. Cement and lime are the third most energy-intensive materials to produce on a per ton basis, next to steel and aluminum.
  • CCP recycling reduces Greenhouse Gas emissions from the manufacture of cement and lime. For each ton of Fly Ash that is recycled to replace cement and lime, one ton of Carbon Dioxide gas (the primary Greenhouse Gas) is saved by reducing the need to produce cement and lime.
  • We can reduce the dedication of thousands of additional acres of productive land to a very poor use for constructing landfills which will be required if the CCPs are disposed. The utilities and their rate payers will also benefit from reduced costs when additional land and facilities are not developed for these landfills or ponds. These benefits include the reduced energy requirements and operating costs of trucking, water, fuel, heavy equipment, and mined clay for liners and soil for covers, that are required to dispose of non-recycled CCPs.
  • The depletion of valuable natural resources such as limestone, gypsum, aggregates, topsoil, clay, and sand as well as the visual scars that their mining places on the land, can be reduced. We can also reduce the reclamation of abandoned quarry and strip mine sites that were used to produce competing products.
  • Industrial pollution can be prevented by reducing emissions associated with industries which produce the power, fuel, and equipment required to operate the facilities which manufacture or mine competitive products.
  • We can save energy by using local CCP sources instead of using more distant aggregate and gypsum supplies.
  • These environmental benefits can be realized only because CCP materials are environmentally safe. They contain traces of heavy metals and radioactive substances, but these same trace levels are also typically present in the natural rocks, soils, and other natural products. CCPs are no more harmful than the products they compete against. The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency treats them as non-hazardous wastes because of their “limited risk”, and indeed, promotes their recycling in all federal procurement and construction programs.

An example of environmental benefits