1. It is not eco friendly
Municipal waste is non-renewable, consisting of discarded materials such as paper, plastic and glass that are derived from finite natural resources such as forests, minerals and fossil fuels. More than 90% of materials currently disposed of in incinerators and landfills can be reused, recycled and composted.
The incineration industry promotes “waste-to-energy” as “green energy” and “climate solutions” but in fact incinerators are the dirtiest way to make electricity by most air pollution measures. To make the same amount of energy as a coal power plant, trash incinerators release 28 times as much dioxin, 2.5 times as much carbon dioxide (CO2), twice as much carbon monoxide, three times as much nitrogen oxides (NOx), 6-14 times as much mercury, nearly six times as much lead and 70% more sulfur dioxides.
A waste incinerator is many things but eco friendly is not one of them.
2. It eats up jobs
Incinerators require huge capital investments, but they offer relatively few jobs when compared to recycling. There are also no green jobs in “waste-to-energy” incineration, and they take away jobs from people who need them most. In the US, recycling typically creates 10-20 times more jobs than incinerators. With a national recycling rate of less than 33%, the US recycling industries currently provide over 800,000 jobs. A national recycling rate of 75% would create 1.5 million jobs.
In developing countries like the Philippines, incinerators will take jobs away from informal waste workers including wastepickers,recyclers and haulers.The materials burned in incinerators are of ten the same materials that sustain recycling such as paper and plastics. Recycling is the livelihood of millions of wasteworkers worldwide, and burning recyclables means robbing wasteworkers of their source of income. In contrast, investment in recycling, reuse and composting will create more jobs and can enable informal workers to transition to these green jobs.
3. It is a waste of energy
All incinerators are a massive waste of energy. Due to the low calorific value of waste, incinerators are only able to generate small amounts of energy while destroying large amounts of reusable materials. While older incinerators generate electricity at very low efficiency rates of 19-27%, a study in the United Kingdom found that conversion efficiencies of new incineration technologies are even lower. In contrast, Zero Waste practices such as recycling and composting conserve three to five times the amount of energy produced by waste incineration. For example, the amount of energy wasted in the US by not recycling aluminum and steel cans, paper, printed materials, glass and plastic, is equal to the annual out put of 15 medium-sized power plants. Because energy produced by “waste-to-energy” incinerators is marginal, it will not contribute substantially to the electricity grid. Moreover, since waste in Asia is mostly organic,incinerators would need additional energy input to first process the waste to make it suitable for burning, and then burn it,negatively affecting the energy balance of these facilities.
4. It is an ineffective way of dealing with waste
Waste is not and should not be fuel. Aside from the toxic chemicals released when burning waste, using waste as fuel creates a never-ending demand for waste, just as coal-fired power plants and nuclear plants create a demand for coal or radioactive fuel. In effect, incineration removes incentives for waste minimization, and creates incentives to generate more waste. In the waste hierarchy, waste minimization or prevention is identified as the best approach to waste management, followed by reusing, recycling and composting. Using waste as fuel, even under the guise of “recovery,” undermines the efforts for more sustainable and preferable waste management options. Incinerators burn many valuable resources that can be recycled and composted, and incinerators compete for the same materials as recycling programs. Because of the extremely high costs of constructing and operating an incinerator, spending tax payer money for an incinerator means that there are significantly less funds to invest in more affordable reduction, recycling and composting solutions. More than two thirds of the materials we use are still burned or buried, despite the fact that we can cost-effectively recycle the vast majority of what we waste.
5. It financially unviable
Incinerators are the most expensive method to generate energy and to handle waste, while also creating a significant economic burden for host cities. Incinerators are capital intensive. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the projected capital cost of new waste incinerator facilities is twice the cost of coal-fired power plants and 60% more than the cost nuclear energy facilities. Waste incinerator operations and maintenance costs are also 10 times the cost for coal plants and four times the cost of nuclear plants.
6. No new incinerators have been built in the U.S. after 1997
Waste incinerators in the EU continue to pollute the climate and cause significant public health risk,while burning billions of dollars-worth of valuable, non-renewable resources. A recent public health impacts report 24 states that modern incinerators in the EU are a major source of ultra-fine particulate emissions. In 2009, the Advertising Standards Agency in the UK banned the SITA Cornwall waste company from distributing its booklet on incineration for, among other things,making unsubstantiated claims that the UK Health Protection Agency stated that modern incinerators are safe.
No new incinerators have been built in the U.S. after 1997, due to public opposition, identified health risks, high costs,and the increaseof practices such as recycling and composting. In recent years, the incinerator industry has tried to expand their sector by marketing their facilities as “Waste to Energy” (WTE), using misleading claims.
7. It will generate harmful fumes
Mercury-containing waste, electronics,antiques, batteries, etc cause Damage to nervous,digestive, and immune systems and to brain,lungs, kidneys, skin, andeyes; any exposure can lead to neurological and behavioral disorders. Lead-containing waste;paint, toys, furniture,water pipes, ceramics,etc. cause Cardiovascular effects;high blood pressure;decreased kidneyfunction; reproductiveproblems; neurotoxin;particularly dangerousto children andpregnant women. Food packaging, stain-and water-repellentfabrics, nonstickproducts (e.g., Teflon),polishes, waxes, paints,cleaning products, etc. can cause Increased cholesterollevels; effects on infantbirth weights; damage toimmune system, cancer(for PFOA), and thyroidhormone disruption (forPFOS).
8. It will undermine recycling and waste reduction efforts
Providing subsidies or incentives for incineration encourages local governments to destroy materials, rather than investing in environmentally sound and energy conserving practices such as recycling and composting. But not only is “waste-to-energy” incineration non-renewable, it also takes investments away from real renewable energy solutions. The world needs to shift away from fossil fuel use toward a massive up take of real renewable energy,such as wind and solar,in order to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
9. This is not the only way to deal with waste
Zero Waste (ZW) solutions such as waste reduction, resource recovery, composting and recycling are proven waste management options that are better for our environment, create more jobs, do not pollute our air and water and are not as expensive to establish. There are ZW-compatible technologies such as anaerobic digestion (AD) that create organic compost and energy without leaving a toxic ash.
The key is to institutionalize programs that encourage the creation of clean waste streams that support maximum resource recovery, composting, reuse and recycling of our waste. Zero Waste solutions are an important part of a sustainable society and circular economy where virgin materials are reused and recycled over and over so that we conserve these finite resources we share with everyone on the planet and future generations. Benefits derived from recycling and composting activities are superior to incineration. For example, we can save 26.4 times the energy by recycling PET plastic water bottles than burning them in a “waste-to-energy” incinerator.
10. The technology is ancient
Even the most technologically advanced incinerators release thousands of pollutants that contaminate our air, soil and water. Many of these pollutants enter the food supply and concentrate up through the food chain. Incinerator workers and people living near incinerators are particularly at high risk of exposure to dioxin and other contaminants.2A recent study published in the American Economic Reviewfound that amongU.S. industries,the waste incineration industry has the highest ratio of negative economic impacts from air pollution compared to the financial value added by the industry.3The New York Department of Conservation found that the state’s incinerators emit up to 14 timesmore mercury as coal-fired power plants per unit of energy.
In 2009, New York incinerators emitted a total of 36% more mercury than its coal plans. In newer incinerators, air pollution control devices such as air filters capture and concentrate some of the pollutants; but they don’t eliminate them. The captured pollutants are transferred to other by-products such as fly ash, bottom ash, boiler ash/ slag, and wastewater treatment sludge that are thenreleased into the environment.4However, even modern pollution control devices such as air filters do not prevent the escape of many hazardous emissions such as ultra-fine particles.5Ultra-fine particles are particles produced from burning materials (including PCBs, dioxins and furans), which are smaller in size than what is currently regulated or monitored by the U.S. EPA. These particles can be lethal, causing cancer, heart attacks, strokes, asthma, and pulmonary diseases.
Written by Radhika Jhaveri
-With Inputs from Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and Aravalli Bachao Team