Energy from waste has its appeal
China’s decision to ban its recycling operations for foreign plastics has suddenly caused a massive problem for the UK government. Up until recently, Britain has been shipping up to 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling in China every year, which is about 25% of our total plastics waste. Now that trade has ceased and already the problem is piling up … and is getting bigger by the day.
Alternative solutions have to be found very quickly and one of the recycling schemes under discussion is incineration of the plastic to generate renewable energy from waste. Not everyone agrees with this strategy though and criticism includes claims that incineration inevitably creates toxic chemicals and heavy metal pollutants that will be transferred into the atmosphere.
As the world’s leading specialists in waste incineration technology you would no doubt expect us to defend the benefits of incineration and although we cannot claim that this is the ultimate solution we do believe that the efficient incineration of single-use plastics has many advantages and values that, especially in the short term, must be worthy of consideration.
One of the main criticisms is the impact that incineration of plastics can have on the environment. But when you consider it more fully, can it be any worse than the energy that was previously consumed and the pollution generated by loading waste on to gigantic seagoing vessels and then shipping it halfway around the world?
Equally, as the incineration industry leaders, at Matthews, we have developed very efficient technology that effectively deals with pollutant by-products of the incineration process. This technology is designed to capture the harmful gases, dangerous chemicals, heavy metals and toxic emissions before they are released into the atmosphere.
The stringent EU Waste Incineration Directive, by which we are governed, imposes seriously strict environmental legislation, including rigorously enforced emission limits along with continuous monitoring. Consequently, the exhaust gases that are returned to the atmosphere from our incineration processes are inherently clean and safe.
In addition, by dealing with the problem at the source instead of shipping it around the globe surely it has to be beneficial. What should also not be forgotten is that advanced energy from waste incineration will also generate positive benefits in return – that is energy output in the form of usable electricity. Hence the term – energy from waste!
Don’t get us wrong. We are not saying that incineration of plastics using energy from waste technology is the definitive answer. Clearly, the government has to deliver a sustainable long-term solution – very possibly involving more environmentally responsible strategies regarding the use of plastics in our everyday lives. However, this ‘long-term’ solution will inevitably not happen overnight. We, therefore, believe that our energy from waste technology has a place as part of a multi-faceted approach to the problem, offering an immediate, reliable, short-term resolve in relative terms … and many would say probably the best solution we have available to us at the moment.