It will probably not be news to most of us that waste going to landfill is now heavily taxed throughout much of Europe. In fact this taxation is being raised year on year. The reason for doing so is to reduce waste sent to landfill, and in particular reduce organic waste to landfill. This is gradually reducing the perceived cost benefit of landfilling our waste when compared with other methods of waste disposal and so the market is beginning to fund alternative waste management methods.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the drive for lower cost renewable fuels alone, or even just primarily, was driving the implementation of many EfW RDF projects. This is not the case though and it is waste management policy which is putting EfW from RDF into the mainstream of waste disposal processes.
One way to manage waste so that less goes to landfill is to minimize, re-use and recycle the waste first and then process the waste. This is done in what is nowadays termed as an MBT Plant (Mechanical Biological Treatment Plant), to produce Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) as far as is possible from the high calorie organic fraction, which is then burnt.
This is a relatively cheaper way to process and dispose of the organic fraction of Municipal Solid Waste than more sophisticated and greener methods like anaerobic digestion. It achieves government targets at the lowest possible cost, and that reason, and not the need for renewable energy is the reason that so many Waste Disposal Authorities and their PPP Contractors will be developing EfW/Waste to Energy Plants over the enxt ten years or more.
So, Refuse Derived Fuel is burnt in EfW (or Waste to Energy) plants. These operate in two types, either refuse-derived fuel systems, or ‘Mass Burn’ . Mass Burn Incineration systems have been around since the early 20th century. In the past, Mass Burn systems used all the refuse, without prior treatment or preparation, but the current generation of these plants will all include re-use and recycling processes upstream of the incinerator grate, and comply with government recycling targets.
However, there are three reasons Mass Burn Incinerators are disliked by the public, and vehemently objected to by some environmental pressure groups like Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace.
First, these groups will always argue that despite lip service being given to ever increasing recycling, once a Mass Burn Incinerator is built in a district there is no incentive to recycle as Mass Burn is usually cheaper than recycling for many commodities. In other words they think that the operator will simply chuck a lot of waste (which could be recycled), into the grate as it is a simple and cheap option to do so, once a Mass Burn system has been installed.
Second, the public remembers smoky chimneys from the incinerators of the past, and objects as a matter of principle, due to concerns about air pollution, and smoke. This is completely wrong of them of course, because modern plants are built to comply in Europe with the WID (Waste Incineration Directive) and now must burn so cleanly that all you will see is steam in the discharge from the chimney, and not smoke at all!
Third, they are worried that toxic substances may be produced during combustion (Mass Burn and Refuse Derived fuel) and then contaminate the ground around their homes. Neither, in reality will this for one moment be allowed by the UK and Europe-wide Regulators.
RDF with burning to produce Energy from Waste in fact is seen rather differently, and much more sympathetically by the public than Mass Burn, as it can be burnt in smaller boilers than is the case for Mass Burn, and in smaller council / commercially funded facilities than usually seen for Mass Burn incinerators, which need to be large to save on costs.
So, it is this “easier ride” from the public for politicians who are worried they will lose votes if they support incineration, coupled with the need for a big reduction in the amount of organic waste being sent to landfills. These are leading the expansion in EfW and not our government being ?green?! Nor, is it designed to, in the first instance, provide renewable fuel ? although it will do this of course.