Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Do Trash Incinerators Do More Harm Than Good?

As we discussed in a previous article titled, Waste To Energy...Turning Landfills To Goldmines, burning waste extracted from a landfill can prove to be not only green and responsible, but a great source of potential energy.

At what expense, however, do the benefits come? Many argue that incinerators create health issues, will have a negative impact on the environment, and prove to be very costly.

Health Concerns
Waste incineration systems give off pollutants that are detrimental to human health. Even newly built incinerators release toxic metals, dioxins, and acid gases. Implementing a waste-to-energy (WTE) program could cause dioxins to be released into the air.

Dioxins are the most lethal Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Those affected by these types of pollutants include residents living near the incinerator, as well as those in the surrounding area.

People are exposed to these toxic compounds in several ways:
  • Breathing the air which affects both workers in the plant and people who live nearby
  • Eating locally produced foods or water contaminated by air pollutants
  • Eating fish or wildlife living in or around contaminated water sources
Dioxin is a highly toxic compound which may cause cancer and neurological damage, and disrupt reproductive systems, thyroid systems, respiratory systems etc.

Environmental Issues

The incineration process produces two types of ash; bottom ash, which is part of the non-combustible residue of combustion in a furnace or incinerator, and fly ash, which comes from the stack and contains components that are more hazardous.

In municipal waste incinerators, bottom ash is approximately 10% by volume and approximately 20 to 35% by weight of the solid waste input. Fly ash quantities are much lower, generally only a few percent of input. The pollutants are created even if they are trapped in filters.

Financial Impact

The cost to build such a facility is approximately $100 million. Operating costs to maintain the equipment, especially the pollution control equipment is also high.

A special hazardous waste landfill is required to dispose of fly ash. This type of landfill costs almost ten times than a municipal landfill. 

Incineration of trash excavated from landfills does produce a sufficient amount of energy to power even small neighborhoods or towns. Discounting the benefits and only focusing on the possible challenges of incinerators would be a complete disservice to these programs. 

For more information on waste and energy options visit www.wasteawaygroup.com


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