This panel addressed the role of waste-to-energy (if any) in the waste management hierarchy of North America and Europe, provided international experience on the degree of compatibility between recycling and waste-to-energy, analyses the arguments for the juxtaposition of waste-to-energy and recycling, and discusses the policies adopted in some communities to build successful sustainable waste management systems, with the general aim of moving away from landfills.
During discussions and debates, environmentally competent people showed that the facts are for waste-to-energy through a thorough analysis. But, the public acceptance was still at stake, so the Mayor asked Friedensreich Hundertwasser, a famous Austrian artist if he could do something about the appearance of the Spittelau plant. Friedensreich Hundertwasser then took an year to discuss and check his spirit and conscience about the request and finally accepted to do it. He then wrote a long letter explaining why he decided to do so. A qualified public opinion poll conducted later showed that almost 50% were in favor of the Spittelau waste-to-energy plant. About 47% or so, had no opinion and only 3% were actually opposing it.
“After doing the material and energy balances for waste-to-energy in the city of Vienna, we found that by providing both district heating and electricity, waste-to-energy in Vienna reduces the equivalent of 1.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions compared to landfilling with recovery of some landfill gas for electricity generation. So, 1.4 tonnes of CO2 can be saved by 1 tonne of municipal residual waste going into the waste-to-energy facility in Vienna.”
In the last 15 years, waste-to-energy as the percentage of waste generated has come down. Starting from 19% in 1995 down to about 12% of the waste now. So, we’ve actually gone backwards in terms of waste-to-energy. Recycling has gone up, from about 25% to about 34% from 1995. But that’s not a huge increase either in 15 years! If you add these two rates, the waste that’s converted to energy and waste that’s recovered by recycling hasn’t changed in the last 15 years. We’re still landfilling about 54-55% of waste.