Is Incineration A Bad Idea For The Environment ♻️ Podcast Ep. 8 Don’t Be A Waster



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In this episode of our podcast we ask whether there is a role for incineration as part of a sensible waste management strategy for a business, city or country. Let’s be honest – incineration can get a bad press – but we argue in this podcast that there is a clear role.

Transcript – Is Incineration A Bad Idea For The Environment

Hello and welcome to the first episode of 2022 of our recycling podcast –  Recycle: Don’t Be A Waster we hope all our listeners and everyone out there had a wonderful Christmas and new year’s and a well-deserved break after yeah what was not the easiest of years in 2021 so yeah here is to a wonderful new year in 2022 in today’s episode we are going to I suppose do an introduction we will not probably covered cover it in total depth that maybe it warrants because I think we will come back to this topic in future episodes but we have already I think we’ve already covered or hinted at this topic in some previous episodes and that is the concept of incineration and where incineration fits into a sensible environmental recycling proposal or situation or infrastructure for a city a country you know or even a business.


I think it’s pretty easy to understand why incineration has you know has a bad reputation I don’t know if that’s the right term but it certainly isn’t seen as modern or as high-tech as clean as green as you know as recycling as reuse and of course that’s that’s logical you know I think when you when you I think in human nature in human society anthropologists could probably go back and tell us you know when fire was invented and burning things you know so it goes back to the mists of time but you know I think I think in this podcast we will sort of we’ll recover a little bit of the pros and cons and obviously the negatives but you know I’ll give you I suppose a plot warning here I I’m going to argue that there is a place for what we’ll call modern incineration in in any sensible approach so you know I think the negatives of burning fundamentally burning waste are a you know you’re destroying potentially valuable materials and b you are you know emitting pollution depending obviously on what you’re burning and the way you burn it but of course you are you will be admitting gases greenhouse gases poisonous lightly toxic fumes you know I don’t think you want to live right next door to an incineration plant you know you don’t want to be breathing in burning plastics or that sort of thing so you know that is pretty simply why it seems a negative obviously with all the focus you know increasingly so on global warming and the greenhouse gases and that sort of aspect incineration has probably had an even more increased negative aspect. Is Incineration A Bad Idea For The Environment


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I suppose that’s the negative and that is you know that sees it is all dark on the other side there are countries and they are very advanced countries globally who are very keen on incineration and fundamentally burn nearly everything you know they can get their hands on and when I say that I’m thinking of countries specifically Sweden in northern Europe and Japan and I think very few people would argue that those two countries are backward or not focused on the environment or you know look not focus on technology you know and the question is why do they do that Sweden is very focused on incineration they burn I think the vast majority of the waste they produce even to the extent that they import waste from other countries so they’ll import waste from other Scandinavian and you know northern European nations to burn it and you know I suppose the question is why would they do that if we’ve covered the negatives why would why would a country do that and again we go back into the midst of time why do people burn things you know the first the first reason is to get rid of something but the second reason is to produce heat you know back in in olden times it was to heat a house or a property and now it is often to create you know burn that burn the product and create electricity. Is Incineration A Bad Idea For The Environment


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Scandinavia and Sweden has you know very much focused on electricity generation from incineration so they’re burning that those materials you know plastics items like such as that which are you know let’s be honest then plastic is made from fossil fuels it burns very easily it releases lots of energy and that energy you know can be used to turn turbines create electricity and power industry homes whatever else so you know that’s the reason why they do it it’s also incredibly cost effective let’s be honest cross-effectiveness is for any business or country is very important you know you can probably generate electricity cheaper than many other many other methods it’s a very reliable you know waste stream energy stream if you look at the news in northern Europe and in Europe they in recent years have been going through energy crisis one after another due to and almost you know the European union that you could argue is becoming dependent on Russian and ex-Soviet nations gas so there are geopolitical issues there too with the investment in you know renewable classic renewable energy such as water and wind.



Is Incineration A Bad Idea For Environment


The problem with those is that they are not as reliable they can go up and down logic tells you have windy days and less windy days and when you have that you know it creates issues so burning waste fundamentally is a very reliable a very reliable energy source equivalent to burning coal so the modern plants they operate in in Sweden are much better than much better than the old plants and they capture a lot of I don’t have the exact figures in front of me we can cover this in a future podcast but they capture a very large percentage of the more negative emissions so you know you can capture the carbon emissions coming out you can capture poisonous fumes those sort of things so that you’re getting the benefits but without most of the negatives you know I’m not you know sugar coat everything I don’t have the details but I assume a certain percentage of noxious you know negative emissions still released but I suppose that’s the plus side and Japan another country famous for technology and innovation they are also very keen on incineration for the same reasons another reason I would suggest that these countries are keen on burning items is because we’ve covered in many podcasts certain plastics cannot be recycled you know once you go through the cycle of x number of times whatever it is that you can recycle a product after a while it’s not recyclable or the facility’s not available so you know you’re staring at landfill or incineration and if I’m going to be honest incineration to me is a much better option in landfill the product will decay over time but we’re talking thousands of years it might pollute the ground all these sort of things whereas at least in a modern plant it’s a clean way of getting rid of the product and it creates energy which you know is clearly a benefit the other the other aspect and this is where it gets into a grey area some people you know will lobby and argue that we should call incineration green energy which to many environmentalists you know you’d laugh out of town that suggestion it’s I suppose it’s almost what the opposite of what people view as clean and renewable energy but if you think about it the argument goes and we’ll cover the argument here when you burn you know plastic waste plastic that has no other use in theory you’re reducing the need for new carbon emissions. Is Incineration A Bad Idea For The Environment


See our video on how de-industrialisation hurts recycling here.


In theory you are I think it’s not offered a bit you are reducing the amount of carbon emissions in the environment so if you have a piece of plastic let’s say one tonne of plastic that exists it’s already waste there’s nothing you can do about it and you have to get rid of it option one is you put it in a and you can’t recycle it in this scenario because of the product the material you know it’s reached the end of its useful life whatever it is it’s not possible to recycle this product you know so and this is what we’re talking about we’re talking about materials that cannot be recycled in this instance we’re not talking about burning valuable you know cardboard timber plastics that can’t be recycled so you know this is the end of life least bad option so either you dump it in landfill it will gradually over a long period of time decay release emissions those emissions greenhouse gases etc will pollute the atmosphere and of course in modern landfills that we’ve covered you can capture that gas and you can’t burn turbines and you can you know heat create electricity the issue there I would say is less efficient certainly a dirtier method of doing it and it’s it won’t will not certainly will not create as much electricity in a short period of time alternative to is you simply bring it to a modern incineration plant and it creates you know reliable energy obviously then by that creation of energy you do not need to create that energy elsewhere you know let’s say you have certain amount of this is where I’ll show myself up as a known scientist kilowatts or kilojoules or whatever the method of measurement of large amounts of megawatts whatever it is the large amounts of electricity generation if you’ve got that from your incineration plant you will not need to burn as much coal gas oil in theory to create that energy so the argument is that we’re actually reducing the net amount in in the atmosphere by burning it you’re actually displacing or reducing that amount of the amount of new probably new carbon emissions and you know emissions from burning fuel and coal so to me it is a good argument it’s you know it’s that old saying play the ball where it lies we’re not in a perfect world we’ve already created the plastic and I see incineration that’s most suitable for plastic we’ve already created the plastic which may not have been in many instances the best option you know did we really need to use single-use plastic in many scenarios no but we have created it exists and it looks like we’re going to create it for quite a long time more so as long as that is being created we have to find a way to get rid of it and to get rid of it in a way that a does not damage the environment too much you know the least bad option and b if this is when it cannot be recycled or reused and b that creates some economic you know key into society such as electricity which you know clearly is a beneficial outcome so it is you know I personally believe that a joined up sensible adult approach to recycling to the environment to waste management inevitably will include some aspect of incineration that was saying what’s out of sight is out of mind I think is very pertinent in this discussion because with landfills you don’t know where they are in many instances and you don’t see what you don’t see you don’t think about and it’s in the ground and you know who cares once it gets to that position that’s the view of many people but you know and potentially incineration has more negative characteristics you know I would argue that as a society we probably should look at changing that mindset you know obviously let’s reduce the amount of single-use plastic let’s increase recycling let’s reuse as much as possible so we reduce and reduce and reduce that volume you know whatever tonnage of plastic waste that we cannot get rid of and but I would argue that potentially modern clean high-tech incineration plants should form part of the solution to to that waste so look I’ll be interested in hearing people’s feedback on this one I think it may be slightly more controversial than others you know I know a lot of our listeners are very keen on recycling I am too but I think you know I you know I’ll be I’ll not pre-empt what people will say but I’ll be interested in hearing and hearing people’s views so you know I again I’ll say happy new year to everyone and of course recycle don’t be a waster.

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