Sustainable trash-burning in focus

Several experts have expressed their views on sustainable trash-burning. Paul Gilman, chief sustainability officer at US-based Covanta Energy, has backed the idea of burning trash to reduce garbage and clean the environment.
Gabi Schoenemann,
Gabi Schoenemann,

Covanta, which specialises in waste-to-energy, burns garbage at high temperatures to produce steam and create electricity. Modern-day incinerators are no pollution-heavy behemoths belching toxins into the air. Scrubbers remove chemicals like dioxins and furans, and less garbage in landfills means less methane in the atmosphere. It also means fewer carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, sad Mr. Gilman.

“This gives us the ability to produce electricity from garbage with fewer emissions than from making electricity from coal,” Mr. Gilman said.

However, Monica Wilson, program manager at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, has termed Mr. Gilman’s claims as rubbish.

“I think they’re wrong,” she said. “They’re turning one problem into a host of others,” such as air pollution and a continual reliance on disposable products, added Ms. Wilson.

She noted that humans are not actually addressing the source of the problem. She added that our garbage issues could be managed only by reducing waste, composting and increasing recycling.

Nicholas Themelis, an emeritus professor of environmental sciences at Columbia University, believes that the burning process offers humans some of the best options to date for dealing with unrecyclable trash.

Ms. Wilson is of the view that burning toxic garbage doesn’t magically eliminate it. “All you’re doing is converting waste from solid garbage to air pollution. You’re just creating a landfill in the sky, and allowing companies to burn the evidence of how much toxic stuff they’re creating,” added Ms. Wilson.

Peter Orris, a physician at the University of Illinois at Chicago, backed Ms. Wilson’s claims. “It’s not just dioxins. It’s also trace metals and particulate matter. All of it is harmful,” said Mr. Orris.

Researchers and advocates on both sides of the debate have cited Europe as the future of waste management.

“We need to prevent problems, not cope with them,” Mr. Orris said. “Waste-to-energy sounds great, but it’s still combustion. It probably wasn’t a good idea 20 years ago, and it’s not a good idea now,” added Mr. Orris.


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