Our Commitment to Environmental Justice

Press Release: Covanta Shares New Jersey’s Commitment to Environmental Justice - Read More

We stand with New Jersey in support of environmental justice for vulnerable communities overburdened with emissions from an abundance of sources, large and small.

We have long been committed to environmental justice, turning this conviction into action with the creation and implementation of our Community Outreach and Environmental Justice Policy in 2011, and pledging our allegiance to providing meaningful opportunities for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, color, income, national origin or education level, to be knowledgeable and have the right to participate in public decisions and actions which have an impact on their environment and neighborhoods.

Nine years later, this policy continues to guide our interaction and engagement with the communities we serve. To our knowledge, we are still one of only a few companies in the U.S. that not only maintains an environmental justice policy but has continued to actively participate and report on improvements for net environmental benefit in our communities.

We have not just put this policy on paper. Rather, we have made meaningful investments to dramatically reduce emissions despite achieving compliance with all of our permits. Other examples of recent improvements we have made in the City of Newark include:

  • New Baghouse Installation – reduced emissions by up to 90%  (~$90 million investment)
  • Low NOx Systems - reduced emissions of nitrous oxides (~$6 million investment)
  • Natural Gas Fueling Station - Despite not owning or operating the trucks, we seek to facilitate an orderly transition to cleaner and quieter CNG trucks.
  • Installation of a New Metals Recovery System - to recycle more metal (~$11 million investment)
In 2012, when we announced the investment to install the new baghouse, then Newark Mayor Cory Booker praised the upgrade saying, "This new baghouse filter represents a milestone in using advanced technology to protect public health and enhance the quality of life in Newark. As a strong advocate for this upgrade, I am proud to be celebrating today's major achievement with Covanta and everyone else who made it possible. We look forward to deepening all our partnerships for Newark's sustainability, so that the urban environment supports health and prosperity for all who live, work, and play here."

Essex chart_update

In our recent sustainability report, we committed to the implementation of five projects by 2023 across our fleet to further reduce emissions specifically in environmental justice communities. Installing a baghouse at the Camden facility is one of these five projects. Engineering work has commenced and we expect to invest approximately $40m - $50m in this project. Since acquiring this facility in 2013, we have invested over $55 million in maintenance and capital expenditures to improve operations and the environmental performance of the facility. A Selective Non-Catalytic Reduction (SNCR) system was also installed at the Camden facility to reduce emissions of nitrous oxides.

Camden Chart_update

We understand that our facilities in Newark and Camden contribute to the local air shed.  We also agree with advocacy groups like Newark’s Ironbound Community Corporation that many communities are unfairly overburdened by emissions sources and we are keenly interested in reducing that burden.

It is well known that Newark is home to one of the nation’s largest airports and some of the busiest highways in the country, in addition to an international shipping port and associated rail yards, all in close proximity and all contributing meaningfully to local air quality. We are not naïve to the fact that no one wants facilities that deal with solid wastes and have noticeable stacks like ours in their backyard. That’s why for us, it’s critically important to engage with the communities we serve so they understand our operations and their true impact.

Based on the data, our Newark and Camden facilities are very small contributors to local emissions relative to other sources. Nevertheless, our commitment to improving our environmental footprint in these communities spans years and the investments we’ve made in support of this have improved the environmental performance of these facilities dramatically. We will continue to look for additional opportunities to further this trend.  

What if Incinerators Went Away?

While facilities like the ones we operate may have become a poster child for well-intentioned but misinformed environmental justice advocates, shuttering them will do little to improve air quality in these communities. They are very small contributors of emissions in these communities overall.

Camden Pie Graph_update

For example, our facility in Camden accounts for only 1.6 percent of the NOx emissions in the local air shed, while trucks, cars and other mobile sources make up 60 percent of these emissions. And for lead emissions, which have recently become an important issue of note, aircraft account for 70 percent of lead emissions in Essex County whereas our Newark facility is just 2 percent of all lead air emissions sources. In order to truly improve air quality in overburdened communities, we believe that all emissions, from all sources, should be addressed in this legislation. Failure to prioritize or even include these larger sources in current reduction efforts will render this legislation meaningless in terms of delivering tangible relief to these overburdened communities.

Learn more about facility emissions here.

The waste we generate as a society must be managed and in doing so, we are providing an essential service. Currently, there are two options for the waste that remains after recycling – landfills or waste-to-energy facilities. Waste-to-Energy is widely recognized by the scientific community as superior to landfills and can reduce greenhouse gases by as much as one ton for every ton of waste we keep out of landfills. Study after study has also shown that these facilities do not pose unacceptable health risks to local residents. In fact, more than 120 of these facilities have been built around the world in the past five years. In Europe and Scandinavia, waste-to-energy facilities are preferred methods of waste treatment and are sited in urban centers like Copenhagen, Paris and Dublin, providing vital sources of baseload energy and heat, in addition to sustainable waste management.

Pink/Purple Plumes


The pink and purple color comes from iodine, the same material used for cleaning or disinfecting cuts or for use in hospitals before surgeries. Iodine can also be present in waste from a wide variety of generators, anything from a commercial printer to a food manufacturer. When these materials are combusted, a portion of the iodine is emitted as a gas, which has a highly visible pink/purple color, even at low concentrations.

While it may look alarming, modeling done by a third-party environmental firm concluded that the combustion of this material was not dangerous to people living or working in the environment. When released into the air, iodine is an irritant at about 0.1 parts per million (ppm), and can have a detectable odor at about 0.9 ppm. The few purple plumes that have occurred at the Covanta Essex facility in Newark equate to a concentration of about 5 parts per billion (or 0.005 ppm) at the ground, a small fraction (5%) of what it would take to be an irritant. Maximum 1-hour ground level concentrations were estimated by applying dispersion modeling results from an independent consultant and were well below state and federal guidelines created for long term exposure. We are currently working with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to review the analysis.

We understand that seeing a pink or purple plume emanating from one of our stacks can be unsettling for the general public and so we have implemented a two-step process to stop it from happening.

First, we have taken extensive steps to prevent this material from being delivered to our facility, including:

  1. Contacting customers and haulers, as well as conducting site visits to potential industrial sources in the local area (e.g., healthcare, veterinary, chemical, photography and food manufacturing establishments).
  2. Inspecting incoming waste loads above the frequency required by our permit.
  3. Installing high-resolution cameras in strategic locations at the facility to help identify this material before it is combusted.

Secondly, we have done extensive research of mitigation systems, including:

  1. Conducting pilot tests that will help us identify the best equipment and process to mitigate future occurrences. 
  2. Consulting academic staff at universities to research and evaluate alternate mitigation systems.

Future plans include utilizing an independent engineering firm to validate our findings.

Following the most recent event on April 7th, we believe we have identified the waste source by correlating deliveries of iodine-containing material to the pink/purple plume events. We immediately diverted this waste and have ensured it will no longer come to the Covanta Essex facility. While we are pleased to have identified the source, we will not rest on our laurels. We will continue to work with other potential generators to prevent waste containing iodine from coming to the facility. 

Community Commitment

CamdenSS-Event_2018_072 (1)In Newark, our local economic impact and community work is significant. We employ 83 full time employees, plus temporary labor. $1.2 million goes directly to employees, many of whom are Newark residents, in the form of wages, along with advancement opportunities. Our operations contribute an additional $1 million per year in economic support to Newark-businesses, and we pay a significant host fee to the City of Newark (approximately $5.5 million a year). 

Other examples of community engagement include:

 - Hosting Annual Open Houses/Open Meetings with the community – We invite residents to ask questions and raise concerns, as well as tour the facility.
 - E-waste collection events – Free events held throughout the City of Newark – to date we have collected and recycled more than 25,000 lbs. of e-waste.
 - Recycling Education –Through our financial support of the Go Green Initiative we have introduced recycling education into Newark schools.
 - COVID-19 Pandemic Support – Recognizing the acute impact of the pandemic on low income communities, we provided neighbors in need in Newark with a total of $5,000 in gift cards to local supermarkets.
 - Free, Safe Drug disposal – Keeping medications out of the wrong hands while protecting the environment through secure destruction of prescription drugs from community take-back events.  

Other support (both monetary and volunteer) include:

 - Slam Dunk the Junk City-Wide Clean-ups
 - Boys and Girls Club of Newark
 - Ironbound Ambulance Squad donations
 - Salvation Army
 - Corporate sponsor of the Turtle Back Zoo and Holiday Lights
 - Various facility tours for students and community organizations

Covanta Camden Earth Day 2020Similarly, in Camden, we employ 47 people and support the City with a host fee of approximately $1.9 million annually. We are very active in the Camden community and work with a variety of prominent local organizations.  Among our proudest achievements was introducing recycling into Camden City schools. In June 2017, the Camden Collaborative Initiative recognized our volunteer work and financial support of the Go Green Initiative on recycling with an Environmental Hero Award. Here’s a video for more on that effort.



Other groups we support and work with include:

 - Camden Collaborative Initiative
 - Cooper’s Ferry Partnership
 - Camden Sophisticated Sisters
 - Cathedral Kitchen
 - Center for Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium
 - Community and Urban Science Enrichment (CAUSE) Program
 - Center for Environmental Transformation
 - Heart of Camden
 - Morgan Village Circle Community Development Corporation

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