EAST GREENWICH- A facility located at 1600 Division Road, in West Warwick stands dead center in the middle of the town it pays taxes to and East Greenwich. In front of the facility is a childcare center and across the street is the New England Institute of Technology–both residing in East Greenwich. 

It’s the reason why both West Warwick and East Greenwich residents, and elected officials have expressed their reservations and concerns about the facility. 

The proposal would allow the company MedRecycler to create a facility that would  convert medical waste into clean, renewable electricity, according to its website. The concept is that the facility would be used as a way to get rid of medical waste through a process called “pyrolysis.”

“The waste will be converted to energy by a heating process called ‘pyrolysis’. Waste will not be burned or incinerated – rather, it is evaporated,” the company website states. 

The idea is to essentially allow a place for medical waste to be disposed of in a way that they claim to be environmentally responsible, while also serving the needs of the Rhode Island medical community. If passed, the facility will be able treat regulated medical waste up to 70 tons/day by using pyrolysis.

“Emissions from the facility will be less than the equivalent of four cars traveling 11,500 miles per year at 55 miles per hour,” its website states. 

Some of the highlights pointed out by the company on its website includes the fact that they would create 20-30 permanent jobs for local residents once completed, support up to 100 Rhode Island based professional tradesmen, electricians, and construction related jobs during the assembly, build out, and continued maintenance of the facility, as well as create new tax revenue for both the state, and West Warwick where the facility will reside.  The company website also states that it will be able to generate renewable energy equal to the amount required to power over one thousand homes every year in an environmentally friendly way, while using only 10 percent of the space in the existing building and leasing 48,000 out of the 500,000 square foot building. 

The company also says that the proposal would help to extend the life of the landfill currently housed in Johnston past the current projected capacity of 2030. 

While the company argues that the proposed facility would be beneficial to the community, others have expressed their disagreement. 

One of the concerns that has been raised by Senator Bridget Valverde, who represents part of East Greenwich in the General Assembly is in regards to safety. 

“This isn’t the clean energy its developer claims it is. This technology is criticized as being inefficient, because it takes so much energy to superheat the waste. But even more critically, it’s unsafe,” Valverde said in a statement. “Pyrolysis is used to burn other types of waste, but medical waste would be a new use. No one at this facility would be inspecting deliveries to see just what is being sent to ensure it’s not radioactive or otherwise harmful. This is not the kind of development Rhode Island should be seeking, and the people of our area are not interested in being guinea pigs for this technology,” she went on to say. 

The list of those who oppose the facility doesn’t just stop at elected officials. In East Greenwich  one resident has even started an online petition to the West Warwick City Council. Over 2,100 people have signed the online petition at the time of publication. 

“MedRecycler is being proposed in an area zoned  ‘industrial’ but is surrounded by residential communities and is in fact directly behind a child care center.  During DEM’s recent information session, it was clear that the pyrolysis process has not been tested,” said Denise Lopez, who started the online petition. “What is being proposed is that medical waste, in the quantity of tons, will be introduced to our state roadways to its destination that is nestled next to residential communities, New England Tech, restaurants, local businesses and a child care facility. Untested and unproven technology that will import medical waste into our state, our roadways and into our communities should not be permitted in close proximity to residential areas. There is absolutely no way to determine the local impact of this. Who will bear the burden if this plant fails, emits odors or dioxins, or impacts water supplies ...WE ALL WILL,” she went on to say.

One of the big arguments that has been raised by those on the other side of the facility in East Greenwich is the fact that despite being only feet away from the facility, the town has no formal input in the process.  State Representative Justine Caldwell who represents part of  East Greenwich is also speaking out. 

“The Town of East Greenwich gets no revenue whatsoever from this proposal, but its people suffer just as much risk as West Warwick. We will have the emissions, the trucks in our neighborhood, the potential for accidents, and the questionable material being brought into the area without anyone on the receiving end ensuring that it is safe and that its contents are what it purports to be. It is unconscionable that our town leaders would have no standing in this matter when the abutting properties are in East Greenwich,” Caldwell said. “East Greenwich’s very valid concerns demand consideration during this permitting process.”

Ultimately the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and West Warwick will have the final say about whether the facility can move forward or not. The proposal is currently in the permitting stage of the process with DEM and the town of West Warwick. 

Timeline for the proposal 

In their joint statements, both Valverde and Caldwell are urging the public to make their voices heard regarding the proposal during the public comment period for the DEM application.

The next part of the process will be a formal public comment meeting via Zoom on Monday, March 15, at 4 p.m. 

DEM has also laid out the final steps of the process which includes written comments being accepted until April 14.Written comments can be submitted to: Department of Environmental Management Office of Land Revitalization and Sustainable Materials Management 235 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908  Attention: Yan Li Email: yan.li@dem.ri.gov, 222-2797.

From there, DEM will respond to any substantive comments and will render its final decision within 90 days of the close of the public comment period.

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