Away with HERC, it’s garbage

according_to_usHERC garbage burning gets rid of the garbage but doesn’t get rid of the garbage by-product that gets into the air we breathe in. Garbage incinerators like that of the HERC incinerator in North Minneapolis, also causes dangers to the environment.

The myth is that garbage incinerators are “environmentally preferable” in relation to dumping trash in landfills. Some believe this technique protects us from groundwater pollution and greenhouse gas emission but, in reality, this technique of garbage disposal simply transfers pollution through other various mediums.

(Photo courtesy of Twin Cities Daily Planet)
(MSR file photo)

Whether it’s dumping garbage in a landfill or burning it, the community will still be exposed to pollution. The question is would we rather have it in our soil, water, landfills or be exposed to it through air pollution.

The fact is garbage incinerators produce air emissions that are dangerous to our health. The ash that is the by-product of burning garbage still has to be disposed of, most likely into a landfill, where more greenhouse gas emission are produced than burning coal.

Minneapolis residents suffer from more than their fair share of social injustices — from police brutality, worker’s rights, food deserts, asthma and other pollution-related diseases. U of M researchers estimate that each year 7,000 heart disease deaths by people of color could be prevented if they breathed the same low levels of nitrogen dioxide as counterparts in White communities.

Most of the garbage burned in the HERC incinerator doesn’t actually come from garbage accumulated in Minneapolis. Instead it comes from suburban areas outside of the Twin Cities.

Think about it like this: The HERC incinerator has a quota of baggage to burn within a given time period. If it’s not matched from the intake and burning of the neighborhood it’s housed in, baggage from outside of the city will be transported to HERC and burned. So while one neighborhood’s garbage is, in a sense, out of sight, out of mind, their garbage is being burned in another community. Consequently, that neighborhood that houses the incinerator is bearing the environmental burden of air pollution.

In this very real case scenario, even if the Minneapolis area that HERC is housed in was able to eliminate waste by 100 percent, HERC would still be supplied garbage by neighborhoods outside of Minneapolis to burn and continue polluting the air.

A very unfortunate aspect of the EPA Clean Power Plan is that the usage of garbage incinerators, like the HERC incinerator here in Minneapolis, is encouraged through rewards. Overall, states are expected to cut back on 30 percent of pollution by 2030, and one of the suggestions is utilizing “carbon neutral” or “emission free” tactics to achieve this goal.

Allowing garbage incinerators into this as a positive aspect of carbon pollution reduction is fallacy, because if we’re only changing the medium in which the pollution occurs, the historical pattern continues of overburdening marginalized communities.

With that being said, we need to find other alternatives to burning garbage. This technique of getting rid of garbage harms poor communities, which are predominantly communities of color. This does not protect the civil rights of the people in these communities.

Pollution itself is the third largest when it comes to the racial disparities in the country and it should not be encouraged as innovative, no matter the amount or type. If you have questions or want to get involved there is currently a campaign to address this issue.


If you have questions or would like to get involved in advocacy around environmental justice and the Clean Power Plan, please contact Karen Monahan at

Shiranthi Goonathilaka, Cynthia Harris, and Josh Stewart are interns with the Minnesota Science Museum, Urban Heat Island Project.