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Re: Recycling vs Incineration - New Scientist 22/11/97
cc: Jon Campbell
> Incineration is a hoax.
> When landfills began to fill up during the 70's
>and 80's, and people were looking for alternatives,
>the combustion and engineering companies took
>advantage of people's lack of knowledge about
The characterization is false at best and much worse can be said regarding
this summation of the beginning of the incineration of municipal waste.
Without fanning flames too much, this paragraph is a rewrite of history, and
a poor one. When the idea of a controlled combustion of municipal waste was
born, engineers and scientists were not trying to take advantage of anybody.
Engineers looked at various aspects of much of the waste: a) it was taking
up space and smelled bad, hence leading to opposition, b) finding new sites
was getting harder, c) the waste had a fuel value and could generate energy
in its destruction, d) some was toxic (paints/pesticides, etc. - though much
is no longer destined for muni incineration) or a threat - which could be
destroyed by incineration, and c) the incineration would reduce much of the
The plots were not evil - though in many cases they were not well thought
out. But at the time of inception, the ideas had merit -> burn waste,
substitute for fossil fuels, generate energy/money from its destruction,
reduce landfill, reduce some toxics. I agree with much of your
characterization of how the original start up of this technology impacted
the environment, but the rewrite of history is uncalled for and detracts
from the overall objective of cleaning up the environment. Just as CFCs
were found to be a problem, so is the uncontrolled combustion of municipal
waste. We didn't have to go back and declare those who discovered uses for
freon evil - we just needed to prevent CFCs from getting into the
atmosphere. In this case, we should be looking at those ways to REDUCE our
waste (recycling is only a partial answer and also creates waste). In those
cases were waste incineration makes "sense" (obviously room for debate in
that sense), e.g. land is at a premium in industrial settings - Japan,
Korea, Taiwan, whatever, then appropriate controls have to be implemented.
That is the case presently and is reflected in a) increased govt
regulations, even in developing countries, and b) study after study
reflecting a decrease dioxin/metal emissions.
Some of your other comments were misleading: "Up to one-third of the
original weight and volume
of waste is left behind as toxic ash, which must be landfilled." I could
have easily said that up to 95% of the volume is reduced - equally correct
and equally misleading. For the most part, a lot of your comments were on
target - the "distractions" were not necessary and could have been used a
*fuel* to detract from the central point of debate.