Modern well managed waste incinerators have a small footprint on air pollutants.
By the 1920s, waste incineration was a common method of waste disposal, simply used to reduce the volume of general solid waste. Notwithstanding their long history, the use of incinerators for Waste Management (WM) continues to be controversial due to issues, such as: “The negative effect on the environment and on our health”. Opponents of waste incineration (NIMBY – Not In My Backyard) and local communities (CAVE – Citizens Against Virtually Everything) still base their judgements on old-fashioned misbelieves and not on present facts and science.
Another misconception is that “incinerator plants in developing nations would cut out or reduce the incentive to recycle and thus have direct impact on the livelihood of local economies.” The truth is that most municipalities that operate incineration facilities today have higher recycling rates than neighbouring cities and countries that do not send their waste to modern incinerators.
“In several countries, hi-tech incineration technology is still unjustified disputed.”
Still, the public opinion and hostility to incineration is based on ignorance, which is partly due to ill-informed and popular media coverage or simply maintained by green lobbyists. Most public information on the level of toxic emissions from waste incinerators does not reflect the present reality of sophisticated pollution control technologies and real-time emission monitoring. The concerns of the population should be addressed appropriately.
On the other hand; fireplaces, chimneys and tiled stoves in private households alone discharge approximately 20 times more dioxin into the environment than modern built industrial incineration plants.
“Recent studies on health effects of modern, state-of-the-art waste incinerators show that any potential damage to the health of those living close-by or working in a hazardous waste incineration plant, is likely to be very small, if detectable.”
Nowadays, modern incineration facilities employ the Best Available Technique (BAT), implementing the strictest environmental regulations and pollution control devices. Modern scrubbers are designed to effectively filter out the potential harmful emissions from the flue gases (including various dioxins, fine particulates and some environmentally dangerous acidic gases like hydrogen chloride), so that they are prevented from escape into the outside environment.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that: “Compared to landfilling, waste incineration and other thermal treatment processes avoid most greenhouse gas (GHG) generation, resulting only in minor emissions of CO2 from fossil carbon sources.”
“Modern well managed incinerators make only a small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants.”
Waste incineration is popular in countries where land is a scarce resource, such as Japan and Singapore. For more than a century Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden have been leaders by using waste heat from incineration in local combined heat and power (CHP) facilities, that support district heating schemes. These countries are renowned for their concern of ongoing climate change and have a strict national policy to preserve their environment.
“Developed States shift to advanced Waste-2-Energy incineration technology.”
A number of other European countries heavily rely on incineration for handling their municipal solid waste; in particular Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France. Most of them have completely shifted from landfilling to recovery by incineration with CHP.
Hence, it’s a noteworthy statement that waste incineration is not as bad as some still claim.
Considerable advantages of waste incineration:
- Incinerator plants are highly reliable and efficient in managing waste on a 24/7 basis and are not influenced by weather conditions.
- Incinerators reduce the volume of waste by up to 90% and thus create significantly the life of landfills.
- Waste incineration does not produce methane (CH4). Compared to landfill, incineration is safer and more beneficial to the environment.
- Incineration is the preferred thermal treatment technology to destroy hazardous, chemical, toxic, medical, infectious and other life risking wastes, generated by chemical plants and medical institutions.
- Flue gases are cleaned of all particulate and gaseous contaminants, before release into the air.
- Modern incineration facilities use continuous emission monitoring systems (CEMS) to prevent the release of emissions into the atmosphere.
- Waste heat from incineration combustion process can be converted into a renewable energy (W-2-E).
- Incinerator bottom ash can be safely recycled as a construction aggregate or used as landfill layer.