Friday, June 12, 2020

Trash Burning Ignites as World’s Waste Swells: The growth of incineration, buoyed by moves against landfills, raises concerns about fumes and impact on recycling efforts

By Saabira Chaudhuri of The WSJ. Seems like when the price of a substitute increases (cost of recycling goes up), the demand for the good in question increases (more incinerators). Excerpts:
"The world is creating more garbage, and it is getting tougher to dispose of it. That is propelling more cities to send their trash to the incinerator.

Global waste is expected to hit 3.4 billion tons by 2050 from 2.01 billion tons in 2016, according to the World Bank. As recycling programs encounter challenges and landfills in the U.S. and Europe reach capacity or face regulations making them more expensive, incinerators are becoming the most viable option for many municipalities to deal with much of their garbage."

"Local communities and environmental groups have launched strong opposition to expansion of incineration plans, citing environmental and public-health concerns. Incinerator plants are also called waste-to-energy plants since the heat from burning trash is used to generate electricity, and many governments classify that electricity as renewable energy, a characterization opponents dispute.

“Waste-to-energy is a public-relations term,” said Mike Ewall of the Energy Justice Network, a nonprofit which is campaigning in Baltimore for a law that would reduce incinerator emissions and in Maryland to strip energy derived from trash of its renewable designation. Advocates for clean energy, such as Mr. Ewall, say that while some energy is recovered by burning, recycling or composting garbage would save far greater amounts of energy.

Critics also say cities that own their incinerator plants have little incentive to pursue waste-reduction efforts because the plants are designed to run at full capacity.

“Many countries are over-investing in incineration to cut down on landfilling, which will eventually lock them into burning,” said Janek Vähk, development and policy coordinator for Zero Waste Europe. The nonprofit recommends nonrecyclable waste be treated so it produces little to no gas, and then sent to landfill.

In the U.S. and Europe, municipalities’ tab for recycling programs has risen, since China banned waste imports in 2018. That’s propelled some places to cancel recycling programs altogether. The coronavirus pandemic dealt recycling programs another temporary setback as cities stopped or cut back collections.

Incineration-industry executives say that concerns about trash-burning are outdated, citing what they describe as stricter emissions standards for modern incinerators. Some companies have also been working to shrink the volumes they send to landfills by recovering more metals from ash.

Environmental Protection Agency data shows landfills contributed 81.9% of direct emissions from the waste sector in 2018, while solid waste combustion made up 8.8%. Per unit of electricity produced, waste incinerators generate fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal or oil, but slightly more than natural gas, according to the EPA."

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