Energy Renewable Energy Waste to Energy Waste to Energy through Incineration

Is burning trash a good way to handle it?

Waste to Energy through Incineration


Argues why burning waste is a bad choice to manage waste, with interesting charts to guide you along the way.

Perspectives and insights

  • At least 31 waste incinerators in the US have closed since 2000 due to issues such as insufficient revenue or inability to afford required upgrades.
  • The composition of municipal solid waste in the US has changed over the past 50 years. Synthetic materials such as plastics have increased, while biogenic, compostable materials such as paper and yard trimmings have decreased.

Xoologue - a discussion between Xoo and Moo

Xoo: We have evolved into a society that knows how to apply enormous creativity in production with scarce attention to disposal.

Moo: Is that an attempt at a good philosophical perspective, Xoo, or do you have a practical takeaway for the ‘burning’ problem?

Xoo: You can mock me for my superior airs, Moo, but think about it. Most burning of trash happen because the alternatives are either too difficult or plain infeasible

Moo: But, Xoo, surely you didn’t think composting, anaerobic digestion and pyrolysis, recycling are infeasible or difficult?

Xoo: Composting, recycling anaerobic digestion and pyrolysis - no, none of them is too difficult or infeasible but that’s true only for some portion of waste and only where such waste has been handled well. Enlighten me, Moo, what do you do with the mixed waste that also has metals & other inorganics embedded in them? Or a furniture that is a laminates of wood and plastic? Or your food waste that has been so badly mixed up with plastic & other inorganics that it is hellish expensive to sort these before they can be composted or used for biogas.. Or think about hazardous waste including biomedical waste.

Moo: So, what’s the solution?

Xoo: I wish I were a bit more intelligent to provide a precise answer, Moo. Alas! I can however tell you one word that’s a starting point: Design

Moo: You are referring to the design of processing equipment to sort waste at source?

Xoo: That, yes, but also before that. Design of how products are manufactured and delivered.

Moo: That’s tough. It could take a decades to effect such a shift

Xoo: The alternatives then are to design better systems downstream, such as segregation at source. This will still mean a good portion of waste that can be composted, pyrolysed, or turned into biogas.

Moo: And we still need to burn what remains?

Xoo: Perhaps, or consider processes such as plasma gasification that just do not care what goes in and yet produce valuable output such as syngas.

Moo: The last time I looked at the upfront costs of plasma gasification, Xoo, it gave me the shivers. The overall project economics just didn't appear pleasing.

Xoo: I once again ask you the same question that I have asked you many times - “What’s the price you are willing to put on your life and health?”