Pros and Cons of Waste-To-Energy Incineration Plant - Profolus (2022)

A waste-to-energy or energy-from-waste incineration plant is a facility designed to dispose of solid wastes by converting them into energy. More specifically. It operates by using waste materials as a fuel to produce heat that will drive electricity-producing steam turbines. This type of power plant is also called a waste incineration facility.

Note that most waste-to-energy plants are designed similarly to coal-fired or gas-fired steam-electric power plants. However, they also function as solid waste management facilities that include processes for sorting and recycling wastes. Nevertheless, because of their dual purpose, waste-to-energy through incineration has been positioned as a viable alternative to fossil fuels and a complementary technology for energy diversification.

Advantages and Benefits of Waste-To-Energy Incineration Plant

1. Doubles as a Solution for Managing Solid Wastes

One of the primary advantages of waste-to-energy plants is that they also serve as facilities for managing and disposing solid wastes. Hence, because they are also incineration facilities, they have the key benefits of waste incineration.

These benefits include the reduction and elimination of landfills. The World Bank noted in 2018 that global waste production could rise by 70 percent by 2050. Without other waste management solutions, this amount of trash would prompt the creation of more dumpsites.

Landfills have considerable drawbacks. For starters, they occupy land resources that could be conserved or used for commercial purposes. Activities within and around these dumpsites also have negative impacts on public infrastructures, especially roads.

They also produce pollutants that could contaminate groundwater, as well as the surrounding soil and bodies of water that in turn, can negatively impact the surrounding environment, decrease the value of lands, and affect the quality of life in nearby communities.

(Video) Advantages and Disadvantages of Waste Incineration | WELS (Waterpedia Environmental Learning Series)

Waste disposal through waste-to-energy plants could reduce waste volume by up to 90 percent, thereby eliminating or completely reducing landfills. Furthermore, these power plants occupy less space, thus maximizing the usability of an allotted land area. Note that incineration can also promote recycling and the more specific upcycling, as well as support a circular economy.

2. Most Efficient Waste-to-Energy Technology

There are different processes and technologies for recovering energy from waste. These include waste incineration, specific plastic processing processes such as pyrolysis, other thermal treatment technologies such as gasification and thermal depolymerization, and non-thermal technologies to include anaerobic digestion, fermentation, and mechanical biological treatment.

From these processes and technologies, waste-to-energy conversion via incineration has a higher power production efficiency, better electricity generation yield, relatively lower investment cost, and lower emission rates using suitable complementary technologies.

More specifically, the average electrical efficiency of incineration facilities is around 14 to 28 percent. To maximize energy recovery, these power plants also include cogeneration capabilities to use excess heat for district heating.

A modern waste-to-energy incineration plant can generate 500 kWh to 600 kWh of electricity per ton of solid waste. Incinerating about 2200 wastes a day can produce about 1200 MWh of electricity, thereby making a particular incineration facility an attractive infrastructure for promoting and improving energy security.

For a more specific illustration, the Energy Recovery Council in the United States noted that 86 incineration facilities in the country supply 2700 megawatts of electricity per day. This generation capacity is enough to power about 2 million homes.

3. Cleaner Alternative to Energy Production Using Fossil Fuels

When compared with some sources of energy and other power plants, another notable advantage of waste-to-energy incineration facilities centers on less emission, as well as reduced dependence on emission-producing energy sources.

(Video) How a waste-to-energy plant works

Using solid waste materials as a fuel source reduces the need for the extraction, transportation, and utilization of fossil fuels—processes within the upstream, midstream, and downstream components that normally require using even more fossil fuels. Remember that for several decades now, global warming and climate emergency have been attributed to the consumption of coal, oil, and gas for energy production.

Incinerators in the U.S. produce less pollution than power plants that run on fossil fuels because of the strict maximum available control technology or MACT regulations implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Promoting the conversion of waste materials into energy would certainly help improve the energy mix of a particular jurisdiction while minimizing dependence on fossil fuels. In other words, energy recovery via waste incineration is a viable solution to maintaining or advancing energy security sans coal, oil, and gas.

Disadvantages and Limitation of Waste-To-Energy Incineration Plant

1. High Cost of Building and Maintaining Incineration Facilities

However, most technologies and solutions related to energy production, waste-to-energy conversion via waste incineration has notable disadvantages and limitations. These drawbacks have also created a heated debate between those who support and oppose the construction and operation of waste incineration facilities.

Cost is one of the disadvantages of waste-to-energy incineration plants. Findings from the 2021 study of D. Moon showed that an incinerator would require USD 134,000 to burn 1000 tons of municipal solid waste and generate 573,000 kWh of energy.

The same study also showed that managing the same amount of waste through separate collection, recycling, composting, and controlled use of landfills, as well as generation of 573,000 kWh of energy from solar power, specifically solar panels, would only cost USD 56,000.

In addition, a 2018 report from the World Bank also mentioned that energy generation from waste incineration facilities costs 4 times more than solar power and wind power. They also cost twice as much as natural gas and are even more expensive than coal power plants by 25 percent.

(Video) LANDFILL VS WASTE-TO-ENERGY // pros and cons of burning trash

A financial and economic model of waste incineration plant construction developed and analyzed by S. Shilkina and A. Niyazov further showed that the construction of a new waste-to-energy incineration plant is cost-inefficient because the entire project would not push through or repaid without substantial subsidies from the government.

2. Incineration Plants Can Still Be a Source of Pollutants

There are also concerns over the capacity of incineration facilities to reduce or eliminate byproducts that are harmful to the health and environment. The combustion of waste materials produces dioxins, acid gases, nitrogen oxide, and heavy metals.

Dioxins are carcinogenic. They can cause problems with reproduction, development, and the immune system. Long-term exposure to acid gasses can lead to severe illnesses while the release of nitrogen oxide is a greenhouse gasses that can also affect vegetation.

Particulate matter released that could escape waste-to-energy incineration plants are small enough to enter the lungs and cause serious respiratory issues or aggravate existing ones. Heavy metals are environmental contaminants that can affect nearby wildlife and human settlement.

A report by J Pyper published on Scientific American cited a comment made by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation or DEC. It argued that waste-to-energy via incineration should not be considered as clean energy because it emits air pollutants at rates greater than coal-fired power plants. Hence, it may not be a viable solution to mitigate global warming and respond to the ongoing climate emergency.

The DEC also mentioned that the government denied the entry of an incineration facility in 2004 because its 2000 investigation showed that mercury emissions from existing facilities in the state were about six times higher than coal-fired power plants.

3. Availability of Other Alternative and Cleaner Sources of Energy

On the subject of energy diversification and energy security, there are other alternative sources that are cleaner and more sustainable. Waste-to-energy facilities are essentially not a clean source of energy when compared to nuclear power and renewable energy sources.

(Video) Waste-to-Energy: proces explanation (2007)

The cost and benefit analysis presented by D. Moon showed that a municipality would spend less on investing in renewable energy technologies such as solar power than constructing and maintaining incineration power plants.

In addition, the high cost of building and operating waste-to-energy incineration plants means that these facilities are almost exclusive to developed and developing countries. Underdeveloped countries or jurisdictions with low income and poor economic outlook would not be able to afford constructing and running these facilities.

A Note on the Pros and Cons of Waste-to-Energy Incineration Plants

There are some overlaps and contradictions regarding the advantages and disadvantages of waste-to-energy incineration. More specifically, the ambiguities stem from claims and counterclaims about the energy efficiency and environmental soundness of these facilities.

Undeniably, energy recovery and power generation via waste incineration has costs and benefits. The goal is to maximize the benefits while minimizing the costs. A notable example would be improving and utilization technologies that would reduce or eliminate emissions from these power plants while maximizing energy production potential.

Another complementary workaround involves government bodies implementing strict regulatory and monitoring policies aimed at creating and raising protocols, as well as ensuring that plants are operating within the established standards.

FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES

  • Levaggi, L., Levaggi, R., Marchiori, C., and Trecroci, C. 202). “Waste-to-Energy in the EU: The Effects of Plant Ownership, Waste Mobility, and Decentralization on Environmental Outcomes and Welfare.” Sustainability. 12(14): 5743. DOI: 3390/su12145743
  • Moon, D. 2021. The High Cost of Waste Incineration. Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. DOI: 46556/RPKY2826
  • Pyper, J. 2011. “Does Burning Garbage to Produce Electricity Makes Sense?” Scientific American. Available online
  • Shilkina, S. and Niyazov, A. 2018. “Financial and Economic Model of Waste Incineration Plant Construction.” IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering. 365(6): 062024. DOI: 1088/1757-899x/365/6/062024
  • Weber, K., Quicker, P., Hanewinkel, J., and Flamme, S. 2020. “Status of Waste-to-Energy in Germany, Part I – Waste Treatment Facilities.” Waste Management & Research. 38(1S): 23-44. DOI: 1177/0734242×19894632

FAQs

What is a disadvantage of waste to energy incineration? ›

The bad news is that when organic matter (the combustible part of garbage) is burned, it still emits significant quantities of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas produced by human activity. For each ton of garbage incinerated another ton of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

What are the advantages of burning waste in the incinerators? ›

Incineration of waste offers the following advantages: Volume reduction: Important for bulky solids or wastes with a high combustible and/or moisture content. Detoxification: Especially for biological waste, pathologically contaminated materials, toxic organic compounds, and combustible carcinogens.

What are 3 disadvantages of incineration? ›

Burned: Why Waste Incineration Is Harmful
  • Air pollutants such as particulate matter, which cause lung and heart diseases.
  • Heavy metals such as lead and mercury, which cause neurological diseases.
  • Toxic chemicals, such as PFAS and dioxins, which cause cancer and other health problems.
19 Jul 2021

What are two disadvantages incineration? ›

(ii) Incineration kills pathogenic organisms and reduces the volume of the waste up to 50 percent. Disadvantage: (i) Incineration equipment has high maintenance requirements. (ii) Incineration consumes significant amount of energy to achieve high temperature.

Why are waste to energy plants bad? ›

The plants represent a threat to human and environmental health because they emit chemicals such as mercury and dioxin, he said. Communities have also opposed waste-to-energy plants because of concerns about airborne particulate matter that can have negative health consequences.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of waste disposal? ›

Comparison Table:
S.noAdvantagesDisadvantages
1Practice is highly lucrativeProcess is not always cost-effective
2Keeps the environment clean and freshThe resultant product has a short life
3Saves the Earth and conserves energyNeeds More Global Buy-In
4Reduces environmental pollutionThe sites are often dangerous
3 more rows

What are the advantages of waste to energy? ›

Reduces Landfill Waste: Converting waste to energy can substantially reduce the amount of waste entering landfills. Creates a Significant Amount of Energy: The electricity generated can be enough to cover 50% or more of the plant's needs.

What is one disadvantage of incinerating solid waste? ›

Incinerators do not eliminate the need for a landfill

This ash contains heavy metals and toxic compounds like dioxins and will be toxic for generations to come. More immediately, these pollutants can leach out into groundwater and rivers.

Is waste incineration sustainable? ›

An incinerator is a container or device used for burning things that are considered waste. Some incinerators burn waste on a massive scale and turn it into energy, leading them to be touted as green alternatives to landfill. But as campaigner Gareth Ludkin knows, incinerators are far from sustainable.

What are 4 concerns associated with incineration? ›

Incineration can also cause water pollution, odour, noise, and vibrations, which impact on residential and commercial neighbours. In addition, it produces hazardous wastes associated with fly ash and bottom ash, which require careful handling and disposal.

Do waste-to-energy plants smell? ›

Anaerobic digestion “can certainly produce odor, but when properly managed, it's no smellier than landfilling,” Fort Collins environmental planner Honore Depew said. “We're hopeful they'll be able to sort out whatever issues they have there and get back to full operation.”

Are waste-to-energy plants sustainable? ›

Waste-to-Energy is the sustainable alternative to landfills for waste disposal. Modern Waste-to-Energy(opens in a new tab) facilities divert waste from landfills to generate energy from the combustion of municipal solid waste.

How efficient are waste-to-energy plants? ›

This is where heat produced by burning waste produces heat, driving a turbine to generate electricity. This indirect approach to generation currently has an efficiency of around 15-27%, albeit with a lot of potential for improvements.

What is the disadvantage of waste disposal? ›

Bad impact on human health. Improper disposal of waste can greatly affect the health of the population living nearby the polluted area or landfills. Waste disposal workers and other employees in these landfill facilities are at a greater risk.

What are the positive effects of waste disposal? ›

Proper waste removal helps improve air and water quality as well as reduces greenhouse gas emissions. It helps in minimising the extraction of resources along with reducing pollution and energy consumption which is associated with manufacturing new materials.

What are the 4 benefits of waste management? ›

The benefits you can expect from implementing a successful waste management policy and action plan include:
  • Saving money on what you buy. ...
  • Cutting your waste disposal costs. ...
  • Meeting your environmental obligations. ...
  • Finding new sources of revenue.

What are the major advantages of reducing energy waste? ›

Benefits of Energy Efficiency

Environmental: Increased efficiency can lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other pollutants, as well as decrease water use. Economic: Improving energy efficiency can lower individual utility bills, create jobs, and help stabilize electricity prices and volatility.

What is waste to energy incineration? ›

How waste-to-energy incineration works. Waste-to-energy plants use household garbage as a fuel for generating power, much like other power stations use coal, oil or natural gas. The burning of the waste heats water and the steam drives a turbine to generate electricity.

What is the main problem with incineration? ›

Incineration contributes to air pollution and like many other forms of air pollution, it seems toxic fumes from incinerators are likely to affect deprived areas, as well as areas with high populations of people of colour the most.

Why are people opposed to incinerators? ›

Incinerators harm air quality

In addition to greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate climate change, incinerators emit many toxins and pollutants that harm local air quality. Emissions include dioxins, NOx and ultrafine particulate matter that can be harmful to both human health and the natural environment.

Are waste incinerators safe? ›

In addition, incinerators convert some of the waste into ash and some of this ash will contain high concentrations of toxic substances such as dioxins and heavy metals, creating a major pollution problem for future generations. Pollutants from landfill have already been shown to seep down and pollute water sources.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of waste disposal? ›

Comparison Table:
S.noAdvantagesDisadvantages
1Practice is highly lucrativeProcess is not always cost-effective
2Keeps the environment clean and freshThe resultant product has a short life
3Saves the Earth and conserves energyNeeds More Global Buy-In
4Reduces environmental pollutionThe sites are often dangerous
3 more rows

What are the advantages of waste to energy? ›

Reduces Landfill Waste: Converting waste to energy can substantially reduce the amount of waste entering landfills. Creates a Significant Amount of Energy: The electricity generated can be enough to cover 50% or more of the plant's needs.

What is the disadvantage of waste disposal? ›

Bad impact on human health. Improper disposal of waste can greatly affect the health of the population living nearby the polluted area or landfills. Waste disposal workers and other employees in these landfill facilities are at a greater risk.

What are the positive effects of waste disposal? ›

Proper waste removal helps improve air and water quality as well as reduces greenhouse gas emissions. It helps in minimising the extraction of resources along with reducing pollution and energy consumption which is associated with manufacturing new materials.

What are the 4 benefits of waste management? ›

The benefits you can expect from implementing a successful waste management policy and action plan include:
  • Saving money on what you buy. ...
  • Cutting your waste disposal costs. ...
  • Meeting your environmental obligations. ...
  • Finding new sources of revenue.

Are waste to energy plants good for the environment? ›

“Waste-to-energy” is often described as a good way to extract energy from resources, but in fact it works against the circular economy, producing toxic waste, air pollution and contributing to climate change – all without delivering what it promised.

Is waste incineration bad for the environment? ›

Due to increasing quantities of waste sent to incineration, incinerators will emit more toxins and pollutants that harm local air quality. Incineration makes a more significant negative contribution to local air quality than landfill.

Are waste to energy plants sustainable? ›

Waste-to-Energy is the sustainable alternative to landfills for waste disposal. Modern Waste-to-Energy(opens in a new tab) facilities divert waste from landfills to generate energy from the combustion of municipal solid waste.

Videos

1. Waste to Energy Conversion Method- Incineration
(Hindusthan College of Engineering and Technology)
2. Waste To Energy vs Zero Waste Movement? | (Pros & Cons)
(zevaulia)
3. कूड़े को जलाने के फायदे ज्यादा हैं या नुकसान? [Burning waste: Incineration pros and cons]
(DW हिन्दी)
4. Disadvantages of Burning Waste vs Anaerobic Digestion
(Landfill-Site.Com)
5. Do we Need Nuclear Energy to Stop Climate Change?
(Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell)
6. Turning Human Waste into Renewable Energy?
(Undecided with Matt Ferrell)

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Chrissy Homenick

Last Updated: 01/01/2023

Views: 5437

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (74 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Chrissy Homenick

Birthday: 2001-10-22

Address: 611 Kuhn Oval, Feltonbury, NY 02783-3818

Phone: +96619177651654

Job: Mining Representative

Hobby: amateur radio, Sculling, Knife making, Gardening, Watching movies, Gunsmithing, Video gaming

Introduction: My name is Chrissy Homenick, I am a tender, funny, determined, tender, glorious, fancy, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.