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Re: Recycling vs Incineration - New Scientist 22/11/97
cc: Greg Smith
Greg Smith wrote:
>The road to hell....
Agree and then some.
>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.
As a matter of record, I have been and am currently working both sides of
the issue. My primary job is a consultant and scientist for industry, of
which a few clients have incinerators. One major client, Hyundai, builds
municipal waste incinerators in South Korea. On the other hand, I am
helping local groups try to shut down a hazardous waste incinerator in North
Carolina. If that were not enough, I was a contract scientist on a whole
bunch of USEPA projects developing air emission tests for incinerators. I
am probably in the top 10% of folks in terms of actual number of tests and
studies of incinerators of all types.
I was not disputing the impact of municipal waste incinerators. Poorly
operated *or* poorly controlled systems have no place on the planet. And
they are a short-term fix to a larger problem - our overall consumerist
patterns and waste. But I was disputing that someone just set out to
hoodwink the public *at the inception* of the whole idea, which was not the
case. Yes, some companies have tried to deceive as to actual impact on
incinerators, JUST LIKE ANY OF THAT PERCENTAGE of corporations that are more
intent on profit than the ethics of operation. And in some cases you get
idiots and deviants in the government circles. You are going to find the
evil or unethical within any subset of our population (businesses and
environmentalists included). It does not make the whole industry evil or
all those that work within it evil, which was the attempt of the original
>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.
Agree, and am truly sorry you got stuck with one of sorry systems (and
>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
I said the following: "I could have easily said that up to 95% of the volume
is reduced - equally correct and equally misleading."
The actual average reduction is usually around 80%, not 66%. When some
things are burned, it is a 99% reduction, for others there is *no*
reduction. The comment "up to one-third" was accurate, but misleading in
the context of trash incinerators as a whole.
My point through much of this is that there are enough problems with many of
the municipal waste incinerators that you do not have to mislead or
misinform to carry an argument. In the process of misleading or
misinforming on any impact (or history as this case), you are in essence
providing fuel for the proponents of an incinerator project. In fact, you
place incinerator proponents on much safer ground - they no longer have to
argue that the system is safe or explain away various discrepancies - all
they have to do is point to the other person's (anti-incinerator)
discrepancies. The arguments devolve from there. . .