Since the use of incinerators began in the late 1800s, waste has been disposed of by this method of burning. Traditionally, this way of disposing waste was unsustainable, resulting in air pollution and health risks for the low-income populations that usually surround these incinerators. With new technologies and innovation, there are waste-to-energy plants that can rid landfills of their garbage in more sustainable ways. The waste can be made valuable again by going into producing energy
An example of a waste-to-energy plant in Amsterdam shows us how valuable these systems can be. The waste is brought in and incinerated continuously, and the heat is used to turn water in furnace walls into steam. This steam is used to turn turbines that power generators that provide energy to businesses and homes. Any residual heat is used directly to provide heat for homes as well. The water used to create this steam is on a closed circuit which allows there to be no waste water. After incinerating, there is a part of the waste that is incombustible, called bottom ash, which is processed to retrieve metal. The residual non-metal debris is then used for construction, which is a much more sustainable way of creating cement. The incineration process leaves behind gases that are cleaned and then distributed for other uses. The electrostatic filter removes flying particles that are used for filling material in asphalt. Other harmful materials are removed as well as plaster and salt for road de-icing. The remaining smoke is almost completely pure steam with an end-product of transforming 99% of the waste put in into sustainable energy, heat, and building material.
Check out this video to see a graphic explanation:
When looking at the social enterprise canvas, we can see how beneficial a waste-to-energy plant can be. The key resources and the resource stream come from the waste that we have an abundance of and that increases every day. To build the plant, we would need construction materials and metals and teams of construction workers and engineers to construct the plant. The cost of this construction would be outweighed by the reward of creating a sustainable place for the disposal of waste as well as the production of energy, heat, and more construction material. Furthermore, it would create jobs for people that would be needed to work in the plants which benefits the community as well.
There is an opposing argument that these waste-to-energy plants are unsustainable because they depend on material that is not naturally occurring source of energy and is therefore unsustainable because much of garbage could either be reused, recycled, or not produced. There is also an unintended consequence that creating these systems of energy production will increase the demand for garbage to create energy, making our waste problem worse. However, the problem that is solved with the waste-to-energy plants would socially impact the health of the people living in the low-income neighborhoods that are typically found around incinerators or landfills. Especially by the model illustrated in Amsterdam, we can see that the main argument of air pollution from the emissions have been reduced drastically in their system leaving mainly only steam being emitted within the country’s air pollution regulations. In the bigger picture, it also reduces the amount of waste that is deposited into the environment which is an overwhelming problem to solve, taking a step forward. Arguments can be made that an increase in waste can be cased by this solution, but any solution to the disposal of waste would give people security in their thoughts that it would be okay to create more waste. Without taking a step forward in any direction, waste will increase without anything to help stop it.