MAINE, Maine — A photo showing a bulldozer covering hundreds of wind turbine blades in a landfill has been circulating online in recent months.
The image is real, taken by photographer Benjamin Rasmussen for Getty Images as part of a series of photos at a Wyoming landfill.
One Facebook post, which has over 67,000 shares, says the blades are being buried because they cannot be recycled.
So we set out to 'Verify': Is it true that wind turbine blades cannot be recycled?
Our sources are Professor Robert Sanford, chairman of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Southern Maine, and Eliza Donoghue, the director of advocacy for Maine Audubon, which supports transitions to clean energy.
"It's true," Donoghue said. "These wind turbine blades are not recyclable."
Made predominantly of steel, fiberglass, and resin or plastic, turbine blades are built to withstand hurricane-force winds, and can't easily be crushed, recycled, or repurposed.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average life span of a turbine blade is about 20 years.
"These things are all true," Donoghue said, "but they should not detract first from the fact that these technologies are critical to combating climate change, and also second, there is a great opportunity for innovation."
That innovation is already underway. Last December, General Electric partnered with Veolia, a French waste management company, to do recycling work with such blades.
Sanford said, "It can be made into pellets which can go into things like concrete, and there are some companies that are starting to specialize in that."
In the meantime, Sanford recognized putting the blades in landfills is far from a perfect system but argues it's still better than other energy alternatives, like nuclear.
"That's a fairly minor problem to have is 'bulk' compared to something that's going to be radioactive for hundreds of years," Sanford said.
So we can 'Verify', it's true, wind turbine blades are not immediately recyclable. However, work is underway to find alternative uses for such blades once their lifespan expires.
If you have a question you'd like our Verify team to address, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the post/image NEWS CENTER Maine verified: