Waste to Energy OR Waste of Energy

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Converting Waste to Energy seems like an easy solution to all of our waste management woes.
  • It does not require segregation of waste
  • It 'burns' waste to produce power or fuel
  • It is working in Sweden/Switzerland/Singapore etc
  • It boasts of 'latest' technologies and 'safe' operating protocols
  • People think it can be an 'addendum' to recycling: So segregated waste goes for recycling and ONLY whatever is mixed goes for Waste to Energy (WTE)

Here are a list of reasons it is a bad idea:

1. “Waste-to-energy” incinerators consume more energy than they produce

All incinerators are a massive waste of energy. Due to the low calorific value of waste, incinerators are only able to generate small amounts of energy while destroying large amounts of reusable materials. In contrast, recycling and composting conserve three to five times the amount of energy produced by waste incineration. Detailed Report.

Incineration vs recycling

2. Not suitable for the Indian Waste scenario

In Europe/Singapore, the composition of waste is such that only 12% is organic waste, rest is packaging or dry waste.
In India, 60% is organic waste. WTE systems demand more dry waste to be operational. Hence a lot of good, clean dry waste will need to be redirected to WTE plants in order to keep them functioning. CSE Study on Feasibility of WTE plants in India.
Different types of waste

3. Detrimental to Recycling

In the long term, if we have a solution for mixed waste, there will be no incentive for segregation or recycling.
India has a flourishing informal sector that works towards our recycling and WTE threatens to endanger this economy.
Recycling Rate:
India: 60%
Sweden: 47%
USA: 32.1%
Denmark: 29%
Singapore: 17%

4. High Cost

The setup cost and the operating cost is insanely expensive. The power requirements are higher. 240 crores is being spent for a WTE plant for Bangalore's waste. For a fraction of this cost, investments in recycling, composting and remanufacturing would create significantly more business and employment opportunities.

chart for cost of utility generating plants

 5. Health & Environment Risk

All incinerators pose considerable risk to the health and environment of neighboring communities as well as that of the general population. Even the most technologically advanced incinerators release thousands of pollutants that contaminate our air, soil and water. Many of these pollutants enter the food supply and concentrate up through the food chain. Incinerator workers and people living near incinerators are particularly at high risk of exposure to dioxin and other contaminants. Myths vs Facts on WTE

health and environment risk on pollution

6. Not successful in India

Many state governments have tried and invested crores of rupees in setting up plants and not many are operational today. The most famous one to be shutdown is Okhla WTE plant near Delhi. Details

chart for WTE plants

Questions to ask when faced with a  WTE proposal : here

Solution?

  • Segregation at source. It is not a problem to be solved by technology, but by processes.
  • Extended Producers Responsibility: Manufacturers to do away with packaging that cannot be recycled and pay for co-processing.
  • Ban on Single-use items. Himachal, Karnataka, Maharashtra and a few other states have the policy in place. The enforcement needs to step up.

Linear economy, recycling economy, circular economy

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