Should we burn items that cannot be recycled?

    25 May 2021

    The culture of waste management is developing rapidly. Until the 2000s, we hardly knew about the importance of sorting, nor about the separate disposal of hazardous waste, nor about incineration.

    And although incineration as a method of waste disposal appeared a long time ago (the first factories in New York were established in 1895), only now this trend is becoming popular among people.

    What is incineration?

    This is a waste treatment process that involves incinerating waste. It occurs at special incinerators or combined plants (e.g., CHP).

    Waste incineration plants are called incinerators. Incinerators turn waste into air and ash pollution.

    Where is it common?

    There are more than 470 such a plants in Europe. In France their number is 129, in Germany – 72, in Sweden – 28, in the United States – 115.

    Incinerators can reduce the amount of waste and its volume. And if you add to this the ability to produce the heat needed for electricity – it seems ideal for solving the problem. Isn’t that right? “No!”, O-Zero states.

    Because burning:

    * does not solve the problem of accumulation of illiquid waste, only reduces its volume. For every four tons of incinerated waste, one ton of highly toxic ash is formed. This ash is buried in the ground, mines, underground landfills;

    * does not destroy hazardous substances completely. They continue to emit toxic microparticles into the atmosphere (even after disposal): nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile metals, mercury and cadmium, acid gases.

    Substances released during combustion (dioxins and furans) can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system and can disrupt the hormonal background in any animal.

    This is the most expensive type of waste management. It will take about 80 million euros to build a small incinerator in France. To build larger you’ll need 500+ million euros. This is only the construction of factories cost, add to this +5 million euros a year for operational costs.

    Incinerators emit more greenhouse gases, mercury and toxic air pollutants per unit of energy than coal and gas power plants.

    Myths and facts

    The existence of incinerators raises many questions. Let’s check the arguments “for” are the cases of other countries, such as Sweden, Japan, USA, according to O-Zero.

    Usually people and media talk about:

    MYTH: Filters prevent pollution, cleanse from toxins.

    FACT: Filters remove pollutants from the air and concentrate them in the ash.

    That is, substances are not released into the air, but are sent to another, solid matter, which is taken to open landfills or buried underground. From there, the ash can travel through the air or groundwater.

    But! If this equipment doesn’t work or has not been changed for a long time, the air is polluted on the combustion stage.

    MYTH: Combustion generates energy.

    FACT: In part, this is true. However, a detailed analysis of the cycle shows that incinerators consume more energy than they produce. Also, incineration takes more energy than recycling.

    MYTH: Incinerators are logical.

    FACT: Incinerators require a constant flow of garbage. This is a trap where the community must supply garbage steadily for 20-30 years (otherwise investors don’t have to build a plant).

    MYTH: Incinerators solve the problem of waste.

    FACT: Their existence provides a simple and thoughtless mechanism for waste disposal. This reduces the incentive to prevent, reuse and recycle, which are key to a sustainable waste management strategy.

    We are used to thinking that incineration is a proven international way of disposing of waste. But:

    In Japan, resistance to waste burning is massive. Public pressure has led to the closure of more than 500 incinerators.

    In Europe, resistance has taken the form of implementing alternatives. Several regions have reduced waste generation, despite population growth. This “reduced” the garbage market and the profitability of building incinerators nearby.

    In the United States, the mass movement has closed more than 300 plants.

    Waste incineration is prohibited in the Philippines.

    In 2019, the European Parliament voted to reduce funding to support incineration in the EU.

    Waste-to-energy is excluded from sustainable EU practices.

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