Municipal waste includes discarded materials, such as glass, plastic and paper. Over 90% of the waste materials destined for landfills and incineration centres could have been recycled or composted. By burning valuable materials, you can generate electricity and reduce the need to preserve resources. The recycling rate is usually lower in countries that encourage the burning of waste incinerator supplier. Data from Denmark on household waste shows this trend. Areas that have a high rate of incineration recycle less.
Incinerators consume large amounts of reusable material to produce small amounts of electricity. By contrast, recycling and composting waste can save five times more energy than the burning of waste. In the US for instance, the energy lost by not recycling aluminium or steel cans (or paper), printed materials, glasses and plastics, is equivalent to 15 medium power plants. Incinerator businesses often tout “waste into energy” as renewable energy. However, unlike solar and wind energy, waste does not come from the sun.
It is impossible to stop natural processes. This is because it is made from finite materials, such as fossil fuels, forests and minerals. These are all being depleted in an unsustainable manner. Subsidies meant to support the incineration of waste could be better used for energy-saving and environmentally friendly practices like composting and recycling. Incineration is not the best option for recycling.
Burning trash is harmful to citizens’ health as well as the environment. Even the best technologies cannot stop the massive release of pollutants which contaminate the air and soil as well as the water. These pollutants then end up in food chains. Incinerators produce a lot of carcinogenic substances, including dust particles. These can lead to lung problems, heart problems, and premature mortality.
Burning waste will not be climate-neutral. Incinerators emit more carbon dioxide (per Megawatt-hour) compared to coal-fired and natural-gas-fired power plants.Denmark, a poster child for Europe’s industry of incineration, found that it was releasing two times as much CO2 from its incinerators than had been estimated. This caused the country to fall short of its Kyoto Protocol target of reducing greenhouse gases. According to a US Environmental Protection Agency study, Zero Waste can reduce up to 42% of US greenhouse gases.
Incinerators are expensive ways to generate electricity and dispose of waste. They can also be a burden on the host city. Amagerbakke’s infamous incinerator in Copenhagen is a prime example. Incinerators are often the cause of debt for municipalities. Other municipalities are locked into long-term contracts requiring them to provide a minimum amount of waste for 20-30 years to cover investment costs. A city in Pennsylvania called Harrisburg declared bankruptcy in 2011, due to the high cost of upgrading their incinerator.
Recycling provides more jobs. “Waste to Energy” plants provide fewer. Recycling is crucial to the livelihood of many millions of waste workers. Studies have shown that recycling creates 10-20% more jobs than the incineration process. US recycling industries are responsible for more than 800,000 jobs. With a nationwide rate of less than 33%. In developing countries such as the Philippines, the construction of incinerators could result in the loss of jobs for informal waste workers. This includes waste pickers as well as recyclers and hauliers. Investments in composting, recycling and reuse can help to enable these workers to switch to greener jobs.