Because we are against the incineration of waste
On April 9th we received a request from BOYAN. The latter, through a series of questions, wanted to understand the reasons for my position against waste incineration. I take advantage of this question to give an explanation not only as a specialist in Ecology, but also as a member of an environmental organization, which takes an active position against waste incineration methods. The questions are formulated succinctly, as they were part of a more general question.
B: I don’t understand why you generally oppose incineration?
Il: If we are looking for a principled answer, we have to start from the beginning. If everyone consumed as much as the average American, we would need 4 planets. If each person consumed as much as the average European, we would need 2 planets. At the same time, people in India, China, Brazil and other countries copy our consumption habits. In our opinion, something has to change and the best start to change is starting with waste. Since the industrial revolution, humanity has imposed a linear social model on a planet that operates in a circular fashion. In the linear waste management model, the end point is incineration and landfilling. The incinerator does the same job as a criminal in a gangster movie: he hides the traces of the crime scene. But as usual, the body sooner or later appears, buried underground or tied to concrete at the bottom of the sea.
Boyan: Waste incineration is a well-established practice all over the world. Can it be considered a source for the production of electricity and heat at low cost?
It is an established practice when the classic “landfill” approach cannot manage the waste generated by society. Politicians always need quick fixes which often only serve to make a problem invisible. On the issue of low cost, I wouldn’t be so sure. This is one of the mantras that the industry spreads. But in practice, burning by incineration leads to energy waste. Not to be outdone, let’s make an energy comparison between recycling and incineration.
ICF consulting data, 2005
And again: the construction of a waste incineration plant it is to the detriment of the fight against global warming. How can it be said that the combustion of fossil fuels leads to “global warming” and the combustion of waste does not? Furthermore, the practice of incineration does not lead to the implementation of reduction, reuse, recycling and composting programs. These are essential activities for the transition to a circular economy. The benefits to society are undeniable. More people will be involved in the waste treatment system. Society will only benefit if it stops thinking there will be more economic benefits from burning.
However, this will not be easy due to two industries: disposable packaging and one-day goods and the old thermal power plant industry.
Boyan: Waste incineration is foreseen as an option in the waste management law. There is a regulation under which this activity is carried out and I would also be against violating the regulation, but I cannot be against it in principle – I do not understand this position.
Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s fair, healthy, or environmentally friendly. Let me go back in time. The regime before 9 September 1944 legally killed those who disagreed with it, after that date the new regime again legally killed all those who disagreed with it. Today, in the European Union, the laws are constantly changing. Laws are a policy tool and policies are an interest representation tool. We are for compliance with the laws, but we also work for their rethinking, revision, updating. The world is constantly receiving new evidence of the harmfulness of the waste treatment method, called INCINERATION! We believe that reason can win. We understand that this takes a lot of work and time.
Boyan: There is still no such methodology in Bulgaria. I tried to get our mayor to work with an Italian technologist to devise such methodology in our city, but no mayor will put a hedgehog in his underwear unless required by law. Our law obliges mayors to respect the waste management hierarchy – reuse, reduce and recycle – but you know that obligations without specific sanctions do not lead to any results. As far as I remember, the burn was third out of five or six positions. So it is not perceived as harmful per se, but simply does not lead to a reduction in waste production, which is the primary requirement of the law.
There is a methodology for waste management. By law, municipalities are required to have and implement a waste management system. In Italy there are municipalities that use incinerators and those who are against it and do not use them. Much depends on which municipality you invite as a consultant. Now is the time to talk a little more about the combustion process itself and the plants that perform it. Combustion is the last element in a linear economy and usually takes place in incinerators. Let’s take a look at how these structures work from different points of view:
First of all, we should dispel the myth that building an incinerator is a great investment. For example: the construction of the incinerator in Brescia, Italy, cost € 300,000,000 and created only 80 new jobs. Not to mention the costs of maintaining such a structure. It is an extremely expensive exercise and most of the money invested does not stay in the local community. Finding filters multiple times costs more than the equipment itself. Very often incinerator operators cannot afford these costs.
Entering into long-term contracts traps communities in an economically disadvantaged situation. In order to comply with the terms of the contract, the contracting municipalities will have to provide the agreed quantities of waste if they do not want to pay penalties. In practice, the construction of these plants prevents the possibility of introducing separate collection, composting and recycling programs by actively involving the community.
Incinerators release very toxic and persistent substances into the air. In addition to CO2, gases such as HCL (hydrochloric acid), HF (hydrofluoric acid), SO2 (sulfur dioxide), NOx (nitrogen oxides) come out of the chimney of an incinerator. Toxic metals such as Pb (lead), Cd (cadmium), Hg (mercury), As (arsenic), Cr (chromium) and others. Finally, PCDD (dioxins), PCDF (furans) and PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) are also released, substances with a proven toxic effect, including neuronal disorders and endocrine system disorders.
But there is something else we can call “the invisible killer”. These are the nanoparticles. The nanoparticles are so small that they can easily cross the lung membrane and once in the bloodstream, they easily cross the membranes of every tissue in the body. Furthermore, the nanoparticles are not captured effectively by the emission control devices.
As with any solid fuel combustion process, in addition to gases, ash is also released and let’s not forget that incinerators generate toxic ashes. For every four tons of waste burned, one ton (or more) of ash is released. For toxic ash it is necessary to build specialized landfills. So we can say that INCINERATION, as a method, does not eliminate the need for landfills. In Bulgaria there are already companies ready to build structures in which to put these ashes in various mixtures for use in construction. In practice, this means that instead of collecting toxic waste in one place, we legally dispose of it everywhere. Which leads to another impact of incinerators: damage to health.
Even if the incineration could be done safely, it would still make no sense. Because every ton of waste we landfill or incinerate leads in the wrong direction.
Boyan: The law specifies a hierarchy of waste management activities. Firstly, there is the reduction of the amount of waste produced. To this end, a system is needed to measure the amount of waste produced by each household in order to calculate how much they weigh on the waste treatment activity.
Yes, the law covers all stages of waste management: composting, reuse, waste reduction and recycling. These are the activities that guide us in the right direction.
That’s why our messages are:
To Municipalities – Instead of building landfills and incinerators, it is better to invest in a zero waste plan. This plan will be:
1) better for the ECONOMY – MORE NEW JOBS
2) better for our HEALTH – LESS TOXIC SUBSTANCES
3) better for UNIVERSITIES – MORE THINKING
4) better for the PLANET – MORE SUSTAINABILITY
5) better for our CHILDREN – MORE HOPE
For industry: If we can’t reuse, recycle or compost a product, industry shouldn’t produce it. We need better industrial design for the 21st century
For the community: community responsibility means reducing, reusing, recycling / composting the waste we generate. Make your choice when buying what you need, because the time will come to get rid of the superfluous.
To the citizens – don’t let the experts rob you of your common sense
To politicians: regain faith in the people
To the activists – HAVE FUN !!!!!!!!
There are dozens of good examples from around the world for every word spoken so far. It will be our responsibility to develop examples of a zero waste plan, or a circular economy in the next articles. In fact, thanks to Boyan for the questions, they catalyzed an ever-changing process. We need to explain and remind the public of our positions more often.