x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Waste-to-energy shows new approach to trashy practices

In the United States, 390 million tonnes of rubbish is generated per year - and of that rubbish, more than two thirds is landfilled, according to experts.

In the United States, 390 million tonnes of rubbish is generated per year - and of that rubbish, more than two thirds is landfilled, according to experts.

But with new light being shed on the positive impact waste-to-energy has on the environment, the distribution chart of how rubbish is disposed might be set to change.

According to a recent report from the Centre of American Progress, energy from waste can help curb greenhouse gas emissions and may help fight climate change.

"Sources have deemed energy-from-waste a mitigation technology for greenhouse gas emissions," says Joey Neuhoff, the vice president of business development for Covanta, the leading provider of waste-to-energy plants in North America.

This may come as a surprise to some who suspect burning rubbish sends large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However, while waste-to-energy plants emit some greenhouse gases, the amount is smaller in comparison with those from American landfills, on a ton-for-ton basis.

Furthermore, landfills are the US's largest emitter of the dangerous greenhouse gas methane.

Methane, during the course of 20 years, is 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide, says the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change. According to the US energy recovery council, 31 states in the US and two territories now define waste-to-energy plants as renewable energy facilities and a preferred alternative to landfilling.

Waste-to-energy plants, located close to where waste is generated, also helps reduce the large carbon footprints of dustbin lorries transporting rubbish to landfills.

In addition, they help keep lakes and rivers cleaner by safely destroying bioactive products - thanks to the high temperatures during combustion - that would ordinarily be disposed of in landfills or flushed down the toilet. This is leading to cleaner water supplies and less bioactive agents entering the food chain.

What is more, the generation of heat and electricity from waste-to-energy facilities reduces the burning of fossil fuels, also used to create heat and electricity.

"We're tapping into a source that is readily available - garbage - and using it as a source for clean energy," says Andy Harris, the vice president of Waste to Energy Canada, an integrated clean and smart waste management firm based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"Across the world, there is a stronger communal understanding and awareness of what's happening with our garbage," Mr Harris says.

There are more than 350 facilities in about 50 countries worldwide, with many in China and Japan.

While US advocates are working to convince critics sceptical of waste-to-energy to move ahead with more eco-friendly facilities, other countries are finding such success with their incinerating plants that they are running out of the most important ingredient of all: garbage.

In Norway rubbish is imported from countries such as England, Ireland and Sweden, although that inevitably raises questions over the expansion of the country's facilities' carbon footprint. The Scandinavian state is currently facing a shortage of waste to convert into heat and electricity. As it stands, Oslo relies on garbage to heat about half of the city and the majority of its schools.

In total, northern Europe only produces about 150 million tonnes of burnable rubbish each year, yet it has the incineration capacity to meet the demands of 700 million tonnes.

"Europeans do a better job at converting waste into electricity, but the US and Canada is seeing a renewed interest in power plants that use garbage as fuel," says Mr Neuhoff.