Landfilling waste is unsustainable. There are initiatives across the globe aimed at decreasing waste sent to landfill. The fact is there will always remain some amount of residual waste. Changing the way this residual waste is processed and viewed will be a critical decision for our future.
There is a lack of public knowledge regarding the disposal of the waste that individuals create. This lack of knowledge causes people to disassociate the responsibility that they have for the disposal and treatment of the waste they produce. Providing the public with a direct connection of what is happening to their waste and where it is being disposed of will be a key factor in changing peoples’ behavior towards waste.
Waste to energy (WTE) technologies, such as advanced thermal treatments (ATT) or anaerobic digestion (AD) are 21st century solutions to the problems associated with landfilling waste. Mass-burn incineration (incineration without energy recovery) is a technology of the past – emerging technologies are clean, efficient, sustainable, and productive.
WTE is becoming increasingly recognized as an approach to resolving two issues in one: sustainable energy and waste management. With the ability to connect with existing decentralized heating networks through combined-heat-and-power (CHP), there is an opportunity created to provide sustainable heat and/or electricity to the surrounding area.
Existing waste management infrastructure could be incorporated into a WTE facility so that feedstock is secured – traffic caused by movement of waste can thus be reduced, as the collection and disposal will occur closer together, or in an ideal situation, at one central location.
ATT technologies and AD have the ability to operate at district-wide-levels. A new facility should not process more than the equivalent amount of waste created by the local area. Although the technologies are capable of handling more waste, processing more waste than the local area produces would counteract the motives to move towards decentralized energy and will lead to negative public opinion, by associating the WTE with past practices of mass-burn-incineration facilities.
In the UK there are several financial incentives that can help bolster WTE’s development – the Renewable Obligation (RO), Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), backing from the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB), and incentives associated with deterring sending waste to landfill. These financial incentives will not last forever – once the technologies are commercially accepted, more WTE facilities will be procured and securing feedstock will be a difficult feat. Implementing WTE sooner rather than later would therefore make the most economic sense.
To facilitate development of state of the art energy recovery technologies, whether it be WTE or another renewable, requires synergy among the central government, local government, and whoever is contracted to run the plant. The contractor will likely be most concerned with the economics of the facility. The central government will assist in making the new technology economically competitive compared to other forms of energy production. The local government will be most concerned with whether or not EfW’s benefits will outweigh its drawbacks, and should work with the contractor to accommodate each other’s demands. Although the most important goals for each entity may differ during the procurement of such a facility, one common goal should be a more sustainable future.
Although some technologies are not yet commercially established, the team concludes that ATT will become proven and accepted. Financial institutions observe how reliable the technologies are through analysing their past performances. Within the next decade the productivity of WTE will be acknowledged. In due time recovering energy from waste will no longer be the alternative to landfilling, it will be the regularity.