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Incineration Is Not A Solution To Garbage Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 1807 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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With rapid population growth, garbage treatment becomes a global challenge since clean and safe disposal of garbage is technically difficult. In 2007, garbage crisis occurred in an Italian city called Naples which was plagued by garbage lying along the streets (Alessio V, 2008). Italian suffered mainly due to overfilled landfills. The crisis draws worldwide concern over waste management. Incinerator offers counter-measure to overflowing landfills. Incineration is one of waste treatment techniques involving thermal combustion of garbage to transform the waste into heat, particulates, bottom ash and flue gases (Andrew K, 2005). Air pollution experts claim that technological breakthrough and strict regulation have resulted in no prominent threats posed by incineration. (Health protection Agency, 2009) However, hazards brought by incinerators remain significant and lingering. The aim of this paper is to assess deleterious consequences caused by incineration. Although modern incineration has improved tremendously, its drawbacks are still overwhelming because of unsolved pollution problems, high cost relative to other viable alternatives and conflict between recycling and incineration.

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To begin with, three main types of pollutants are inevitably emitted during combustion of hazardous waste, which are heavy metals, unburned toxic chemicals and new pollutants formed during incineration. Firstly, toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and chromium are reported to be widely distributed in industrial refuse and household waste (Ole H et al, 2002). Metals cannot be destroyed by incineration. Even worse is that they are discharged in more concentrated and hazardous form after combustion (Greenpeace international, 2004). In addition, they are exhausted in form of microscopic gas particles, which increases the vulnerability of our respiratory systems. Obviously, incineration does not eliminate the threats posed by heavy but intensifies them. Secondly, highly poisonous dioxin and furan are produced in reaction among partially decomposed waste components (Greenpeace international, 2004). Particularly, they are more dangerous than original waste. Upon discharge into atmosphere, dioxin can be carried by air and ocean to an area remote from the sources. Thirdly, incomplete combustion of waste results in escape of unburned toxic substances. Incinerator ash carries these unburned toxic substances to environment through chimney (Greenpeace international, 2004). Indeed, air pollution problem is deteriorated because numerous venomous products are generated during garbage combustion.

Proponents argue that modern and well regulated incinerators only account for a small percentage of local pollution although the detrimental health effects of emissions on human are not certainly ruled out. According to Health Protection Agency, operators of modern incinerators are obligated to prevent violation of environmental regulations by pressing emission below the strict limits (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, U.K., 2009). Incinerators are equipped with latest devices such as scrubber, electrostatic precipitators and cyclone to capture harmful pollutants (Water Environment Federation, 2009). Only a small amount of air pollutants is then released from incinerators in comparison with obsolete counterparts. Consequently, the additional cost born by residents living near incinerators is almost negligible. For instance, over 90 percent of human exposure to dioxin is animal foodstuff such as dairy produce, meat, seafood and eggs, which contrasts with limited intake of dioxin through inhalation. Calculation demonstrates that incineration contributed less than 1 percent to UK total emission of dioxin (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, U.K., 2009). Seemingly, incinerator is only a minor source of exposure.

Undeniably, air pollution control devices make flue gas cleaner but pollutants are neither destroyed nor vanished forever by technologists because the devices are designed to transfer toxic substances from exhaust to ash. On the other hand, substantial amount of captured exhaust refuse have to be buried in special landfills (Greenpeace international, 2000). Referring to the report from Greenpeace International, the highest concentration of pollutants has been found in residues accumulating inside control devices. They can leach out from the burial sites and immediately threaten neighboring water bodies (Greenpeace international, 2000). In short, this illustrates that advanced control equipment merely postpone the environmental impact by shifting the pollution problem from air to land.

Quite the opposite, incineration is not a cost-effective option of waste management because of high operation cost per ton. Costs of any waste treatment systems have several determinants including level of technology, features of disposed materials, energy costs, land, labor, and financing costs. Despite the diversified factors, incineration is always more costly than alternatives. First of all, the operation cost per ton is at least twice as high as that required for landfills which are competent substitute of incineration (Rand T et al, 2000). Table 1 shows the figures for capital cost per ton per day of waste handled by recycling/composting in industrial nations and less industrialized nations or incineration in 2004. There is an enormous difference between the cost of recycling/composting and incineration.

Table 1

Capital costs of incineration versus recycling and composting

tpd = tons per day

(Rand T et al, 2000)

The cost required for recycling/composting varied from US$4000 to US$90000 for industrial nations and US$450 to US$5300 for industrializing nations. In general, the average cost required for recycling/composting was still considerably lower than incineration cost which amounted to at least US$136000.

Incinerator advocates allege that the operation cost of incineration tends to reduce gradually because of technological advances. The drop in operation cost is primarily attributable to improvement in dewatering technology. Total solid concentration ranging from 27% to 30 % is produced by dewatering, which allows spontaneous combustion upon ignition (Water Environment Federation, 2009). Spontaneous combustion suggests that no auxiliary fuel is required so fuel cost saving is significant especially when fuel price is soaring during economic recovery. Moreover, if heat energy produced during combustion is recovered and converted into electricity, the costs may drop further by $30 to $50 per ton (Water Environment Federation, 2009). It can be predicted that ongoing development of incineration technology is likely to formulate more cost-reducing strategies for the future.

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On the contrary, technology tends to raise cost instead because latest air pollution control devices or facilities are expensive. Air pollution control devices add heavy cost to incineration. For instance, flue gas clean-up equipment is responsible for approximately 30% of the capital costs of a conventional incinerator in United Kingdoms (Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions of U.K. , 2000). Next, public awareness of health hazard caused by incinerators and increased emission limits in the United States forces incinerator owners to invest on updating obsolete and more polluting facilities. Apart from this, if special landfills were established to collect the toxic ash from residues in air pollution control devices, it would drastically increase operation cost (Brenda P, 2004).

Besides, incineration hinders the development of recycling which is less expensive since they are incompatible. Incinerators require a minimum amount of trash to sustain daily operation and produce electricity (Confederation of Paper Industry, 2009). The need of garbage for fuel encourages product consumption and waste disposal and leads to keen competition for waste between recycling and incineration sectors. Furthermore, incineration projects divert funding from recycling programs to an extent that little money is left for them. For example, the Polish National Fund for Environmental Protection offered a loan to construct a waste incinerator in Warsaw, provided that the Warsaw authorities continued to fund waste separation and recycling (Brenda P, 2004). However, shortly after they received the loan, the Warsaw City Council cut budget for its recycling program. Apart from waste and funds, they also compete for government support as their development is subject to government regulations concerning pollution control as well as garbage disposal (Jeffrey M, 2006).

Incineration upholders may refute the argument by claiming that garbage contents are diversified enough to satisfy both recycling and incinerators. They admit that both recycling and incinerators demand paper which has high energy value. Nevertheless, only paper which has been recycled so many times that its fiber-making ability was lost will be incinerated (Confederation of Paper Industry, 2009). Otherwise, it can be recycled. Similarly, paper unsuitable for recycling, including hospital wipes, will also be incinerated for energy (Confederation of Paper Industry, 2009). This suggests that despite the demand for the same waste materials, incineration and recycling rely on distinct sources of the same materials.

Anyway, the problem lies on the adverse effect on social value toward waste but not what deserves incineration. Heavy dependence on incineration promotes the throw-away lifestyle, escalating waste problem. Unregulated manufacture of products and goods dismiss recyclability and reusability (Brenda P, 2004). According to Friends of the Earth, in Shrewsbury, Shropshire in England, incineration target decreased from 57% to 27% after the onset of incinerator operation (Shrewsbury Friends of the Earth, 2009). This finding shows that with waste figures decrease due to incineration, the absence of incentive and pressure discourages recycling.

The above discussion summarizes the detrimental effects caused by incineration in term of pollution, financial cost and incompatibility with recycling. Undoubtedly, our world continuously and ubiquitously generates garbage which must be properly handled. However, we should not be obsessed with technological advances in incineration. Improved incinerators are not flawless, which solve old problems inefficiently and sometimes create new ones. Incinerators remain polluting, cost public and government heavily and threaten the survival of recycling activities. Incineration is, thus, not a solution to overflowing garbage.

(Total words:1467 Words per sentence: 22.3)


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