Compatibility Between Recycling and Waste-to-Energy
Author, Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America
Managing Director, UV&P Environmental Management and Engineering
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.