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Statement: “The waste we collect powers over 1 million homes,” Waste Management says on the side of some of its trash trucks in San Diego.

Determination: True

Analysis: Garbage, strange as it might seem, can be an electricity source.

But I saw this claim on the side of Waste Management truck driving in La Jolla recently and wondered whether the number was true. I checked the company’s website, which said its landfills generate enough power for 400,000 homes across the country. Quite less, I reckoned, than the truck claimed.

I was wrong.

Waste Management does generate enough energy (540 megawatts) for 400,000 homes from the methane it captures from decaying garbage in landfills it owns. But the company also generates power for 650,000 more homes from its 16 waste-to-energy plants across the country. They burn garbage — 7 million tons alone in 2009 — to generate electricity.

The company’s calculation assumes the homes are efficient. The number of homes that can be powered by a megawatt of energy is a soft number, because a household’s energy demands vary widely from state to state.

How do we know the company’s generating as much power as it claims? Waste Management provided a fact sheet that highlights its claim. And details on those fact sheets are corroborated in the forms that the publicly traded company has disclosed in quarterly reports to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Since lying to the SEC is a crime, we’re taking the company at its word here.

None of those landfills are here in San Diego, but garbage collected from throughout the county does head to a Riverside County landfill owned by Waste Management, said Charissa McAfee, a company spokeswoman. Methane captured there is converted to natural gas, which powers 120 of the 143 trash trucks that Waste Management uses in San Diego, she said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency endorses capturing methane from landfills. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas.

Have you been driving around and spotted a claim that needs to be run through a Fact Check analysis? E-mail new Fact Check suggestions to factcheck@voiceofsandiego.org.

Please contact Rob Davis directly at rob.davis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/robwdavis.

Rob Davis

Rob Davis was formerly a senior reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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