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| be Waste Wise | March 23, 2023

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Compatibility Between Recycling and Waste-to-Energy

Compatibility between Recycling and Waste-to-Energy: Waste Wise Panel

Click here to read the full length article based on this panel

Recycling and/or Waste-to-Energy is probably one of the most controversial topics in the solid waste management sector. According to a World Bank report, this issue often becomes the center of emotional public debate. There are two main schools of thought when it comes to the topic of compatibility between recycling and waste-to-energy (or energy from waste as known in Europe). One of them says that the presence of a waste-to-energy combustion plant is an obstacle to a community’s recycling efforts, whereas the other school of thought advocates that recycling and waste-to-energy are compatible and that the presence of a waste-to-energy plant increases the recycling rates in communities.

On the one hand, advocates of an integrated waste management system with both recycling and waste-to-energy rely on the official waste management data of countries; supporting the argument that the presence of waste-to-energy plants increases recycling rates. In this context, it is interesting to note Dr. Samantha MacBride’s comment in our previous panel “Recycling in North American Cities”, that there is a heavy at waste-to-energy plants to pull out recyclables before combusting the waste. The city of Berlin in Germany, for example, shows that recycling goes hand in hand with waste-to-energy; with 50 % and 40 % respectively. The situation remains the same in other relatively sustainable cities, such as Singapore, which recycles 57% of its waste and incinerates 41%; or Lee County in Florida, MI, where recycling accounts for 46% and waste-to-energy for 51%. Their position is empowered by the evidence that while achieving zero waste, renewable energy (partly at least) can be produced for the needs of a community. It is also supported by increasing sustainable uses of the incineration residues, such as the use of bottom ash for construction purposes.

In contrast, critics of waste-to-energy have argued that the presence of a waste combustion facility in an area inhibits recycling and is an obstacle to communities’ efforts to implement active recycling programs. Their juxtaposition derives mainly from cities with relatively high waste-to-energy rates and relatively low recycling rates, such as the city of Vienna in Austria, in which the 63% of the waste is incinerated and the 23% is recycled or Malmo in Sweden, where waste-to-energy amounts to 69% and recycling to 20%. Their considerations are multiplied by concerns about the renewability of waste-to-energy as well as the sustainable utilization of the by-products of the combustion process, the bottom and fly ash.

The focus of this panel is to address reasons for varying degrees of compatibility between recycling and waste-to-energy in North America and Europe; identify ways forward to build successful sustainable waste management systems, with the general aim of moving away from landfills; as well as analyse statistics around this aspect. Join our world renowned experts and communicators in taking the discussion on this important topic further.


  1. Waste Wise

    via GreenDen Consultancy

  2. Justice Rose

    Why does this totally ignore the fact that burning waste creates pollution and releases toxic chemicals into our environment? Incineration is such an outdated way of managing waste and is the WRONG direction. We should be investing our time and money into preventing the waste in the first place and conserving resources. WTE shouldn’t have a need to exist. There is a reason “reduce” is higher in the hierarchy than reuse and recycle. The discussion of “recycling and WTE go hand-in-hand” shows an emphasis on end-of-life solutions and not prevention.

  3. RanjithKharvel

    Justice Rose Here are two articles on this issue

  4. Justice Rose

    Everyone is missing the point entirely. There should be no waste. Nothing should ever have to be burned. If we think of materials as resources, and focus on highest and best use, there should be nothing left to burn. Incineration encourages a pattern of consumption that is not sustainable. We need to think higher level and design unrecyclable and nonreusable materials out of the system. A great example of the problem with incinerators is the country of Sweden. The Swedish people have focused on conserving resources by recycling, composting, and reusing so it has literally run out of “waste” to burn. In order for the incinerators to remain viable, Sweden has to import garbarge from neighboring countries. In Northern Europe, the demand far outstrips the supply. Why build an incinerator if its feedstock is disappearing (and rightfully so)? This is all about conservation of precious resources, which should be the highest priority. There are other clean ways of generating electricity that should be utilized and we should invest on perfecting. Our natural resources? There are no alternatives.

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