Is trash the best thing to come out of Congress?

Congress tosses 5,000 tons of half-eaten jelly donuts, used tissues, and left-over Chicken Kiev every year -- and Paul Gilman couldn’t be happier about it.

Gilman is senior vice president and chief sustainability officer of Covanta, a leading company in the field of waste to energy. His company processes all the non-recyclable rubbish from Capitol Hill’s 535 lawmakers and turns it into electricity.

'We recycle enough metal from Congress for 12,500 bicycles.'

— Covanta senior vice president Paul Gilman

A cynic might call that garbage the most useful thing the nation’s politicians produce.

“It powers about 250 homes,” he told “It offsets the equivalent of pulling 890 cars off the road each year, and we recycle enough metal from Congress for 12,500 bicycles.”

Covanta is a powerhouse within the power industry; Gilman said his company turns 6 to 7 percent of the entire nation’s municipal solid waste into power every year, a whopping 20 million tons in total. The waste-to-energy solution neatly solves a problem you might have faced while hauling your trash cans to the curb each morning: Paper has a place. Glass has a place. But what about everything else?

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“If you’re a good recycler at home, it’s the goopy stuff that you go, I don’t know what we can do with this,” Gilman told His company wants your waste, left-over lasagna and all.

To solve Congress’ waste problem, Gilman sends those 5,000 tons of post-recycling waste from the Hill to 5302 Eisenhower Avenue, in Alexandria, Va.  There his company loads approximately 975 tons of municipal U.S. waste each day onto a series of conveyor belts and into what is essentially a complex barbecue grill, where it is precisely roasted at 2,000 degrees (somewhat hotter than one would grill a chicken).

This process generates steam, which turns a turbine to generate electricity -- it's essentially a boiler that combusts trash.

Before that, the company carefully sorts through the nation’s waste, monitoring for radioactive elements from medical sites and extracting both iron and non-ferrous metals like aluminum and brass metals for resale.

“We recover enough metal per year to make five golden gate bridges and a billion aluminum cans,” Gilman told

There’s a side benefit to preventing waste from entering landfills, he noted: All that stuff -- those eggshells and used paper bags and Q-Tips and Kleenex -- would have rotted in a landfill and generated methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent that carbon dioxide.

“If you include methane gas, every ton of waste we process reduces greenhouse gasses by a ton. We’re actually a negative greenhouse gas generator,” he said.

And that’s no filibuster.