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Re: Recycling vs Incineration - New Scientist 22/11/97
The road to hell.... There is room for all kinds of debate on the issue
of incineration. I don't doubt that at least some, or most, or all,
of the engineers and company who have developed "controlled combustion
of municipal solid waste" have thought they were doing society some
good. One thing I find reprehensible, after having been involved in
a long-term effort to stop an incinerator and advance source reduction,
reuse and recycling, is the vigor with which incinerator supporters --
vendors, consultants, etc. -- put forth biased data and studies. I've
seen more than one community screwed by teams of incinerator proponents
presenting bogus studies.
By the way, we lost that fight. Our county is locked into paying
roughly $50 million per year for its incinerator, regardless of how
much or how little we burn. Promised quantity-based fees and
curbside collection of mixed paper have not come on line, and the
county's solid waste staff recently urged our county council not
to take the county's 50 percent recycling goal "too seriously."
We've caught the county illegally burning tires in the incinerator. The
consultant's throughput numbers -- tons available to burn after recycling
-- were off by 21 percent. So this year, we're projected to burn roughly
240,000 tons of paper, much of which could have gone to market, where it
would have created jobs and revenues.
As for the health risk assessment on this incinerator, I lost count of how
many errors we found in it. The county and state's best defense was to
challenge their own citizens' rights to a fair hearing in court.
Some of the people pushing these incinerators either know better and
they're lying, or they don't know better and they're incompetent.
As for your claim of 95 percent volume reduction, do you have any data?
The data I've seen on "state-of-the-art" incinerators tend toward 60 to 70
percent mass reduction and 80 to 90 percent volume reduction, but only of
what's burned. This does not account for bypass waste, which goes
straight to the dump without passing through the incinerator. So the
actual mass and volume reductions achieved through incineration are
something less then the figures above. We can also subtract from the
front end what is taken out of the the waste stream through source
reduction, reuse and recycling. Once we do that, it's clear that
incineration is often a very expensive way to achieve a relatively small
reduction in the overall waste/material stream.
On Fri, 28 Nov 1997, Sam McClintock wrote:
> Date: Fri, 28 Nov 1997 12:35:14 -0500 (EST)
> From: Sam McClintock <email@example.com>
> To: Multiple recipients of list <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Subject: 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
> >incineration technology:
> 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.
> Sam McClintock
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