Landfill vs Incineration: Part 2


Denmark is the poster child for incineration. The poster child wants to move away from incineration, what does this say about incinerations green credentials?

For most countries landfills are the most common way to deal with MSW. With waste projections expected to reach 2.2billion tons by 2025, much of that will go to landfill, especially in countries with poor budgets and limited systems. For instance, most new comers to the EU send 75% of their waste to landfill.

Landfills can be set up to collect CH4 to be combusted, turned into energy and used to generate electricity, heat, mechanical energy (i.e fuel for transport) and as a feedstock for chemicals. This will be a positive outcome as presently landfills in the UK contribute 3% to a their CH4 GHG emissions. It’s a way to utilize a highly damaging GHG with 25 times the global warming capacity of CO2 and preventing its release into the atmosphere.

This does not detract from the issue that both of these need a constant influx of waste and highly organic waste at that. Organic waste can be put and better utilized into many other avenues, for instances compost heaps for the purpose of fertilization (reduce the need for chemical fertilization) and in anaerobic digesters (although there is potential that arguments could be made against AD although it has been considered and efficient method of utilizing biodegradable matter). It still remains that the most useful organic waste is likely to be waste that can be easily recycled (eg paper and cardboard).

Biogas collection still generates CO2 but through life cycle analysis, this is considered as less harmful then in comparison with fossil fuel energy generation and incineration. The facilities might produce lower electricity (upto 7.5MW but normally 1 to 5MW) but costs of these facilities mean that smaller investment is required and there is more scale for facilities to be decommissioned if a more advanced and efficient technology can be utilized.

Using landfill-generated biogas is a more positive step in the right direction as this removes a GHG that is potential impact is around 25 times that of CO2. These facilities can even be put in place on landfill sites that are already closed and do not receive any additional waste. It is naïve to think that the world will ever be zero waste but it is more important to move towards reducing waste, reusing more and making recycling processes greener, more varied and more efficient. Neither process deals with the issue of removing harmful and hazardous materials and both detract from the 3 R’s but the feeling that biogas is a less resource intensive (i.e production of facilities) and a less financially straining process makes it a better candidate. The added bonus of being able to be a source of mechanical energy with the potential to, for example, fuel a fleet of buses in Brazil makes it more versatile.

Return to Part 1 in this series.

About the Author Kelly Millward

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