Friday , May 14 2021

Waste to Energy: Sustainability Solution or Ponzi Plan?

Reuse and recycling can be achieved so far. The new phrase in the waste management industry is "zero waste", meaning it does not produce any waste. Even after reuse and recycling, there is always something left. Many ecologists believe that Waste-to-Energy, or W.T.E., is a practical step towards true zero waste. Others see W.T.E. as something more than a Ponzi project, as the need for energy provides incentives for producing more waste.

There is no consensus, but a South African case study by urban developer Trynos Gumbo Counseling depicts a W.T.E. it really works in real life.

The municipality of eThekwini is one of the largest urban areas of South Africa, including Durban and its suburbs. As is happening in the developing world, much of the solid waste stream is made up of organic waste. For comparison, richer countries end up in much more metals and glass. Nevertheless, rganic waste in eThekwini is often disposed of inappropriately, creating a risk of aesthetics and health. The waste is left to rot, releasing the methane that changes the climate. The City argued that if the gas is to be released anyway, it could use it.

The theory was that the gas generated by the decomposition of organic material into a landfill could be captured and burned to generate electricity. (Some W.T.E. systems directly burn waste as a source of energy, although it produces more byproducts). As eThekwini quickly learned, not every landfill is beneficial to this process. The first warehouse tested does not produce enough gas. The second kept with water and fine sand, blocking the exhaust pipes. However, the third landfill generates plenty of gas and can continue to do so even after the closure of the landfill as planned in 2022. A protection zone around the site helps to preserve the habitat for wildlife.

A more recent W.T.E. the space in a much larger landfill site has also reached a rocky start – initially most of the gas is burned rather than produced. Eventually space produces enough electricity to reduce capacity in nearby fossil fuel factories. The plant has helped to reduce some local problems. the air was significantly cleaner, the inappropriate mood was reduced, and the factory employed local workers.

However, there are some problems. Technology is costly, making it difficult to scale. There is still no answer to what happens when total waste levels begin to decline. Gumbo also makes the controversial claim that there is no waste coal.

There are many large landfills that decompose and produce methane. At present, as Gumbo says, W.T.E. can use the gas produced in each case. W.T.E. could work better as transition technology until they fully take up renewable energies.


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By: Trinos Gubo

Councilence, No. 12 (2014), pp. 46-62

University of Columbia

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