Commentary by Neil Seldman
Technical distinctions among incineration technologies are not important. All these technology cost hundreds of millions of dollars (billions when amortized over 20 years). A 1500 tpd mass burn system costs $600 million. The other technologies (gasification, pyrolysis, plasma arc) cost more. (RDF has unique characteristics and requires a separate discussion.) In addition to capital drain, these facilities destroy billions of dollars of raw materials. These materials have already been mined, processed and transported and can be made available for quick re-use in agriculture and industry, at a much lower cost than using virgin materials.
There is a basic design flaw in all mixed waste systems: they automatically lead to over-centralized facilities that are costly to operate and increase transportation costs.
The most cost effective economy of scale for recycling and composting is local and regional. The markets for 50%-60% of the municipal waste stream (counting C and D debris) are also local and regional. These are the most economically and environmentally valuable portions of the ‘waste’ stream (organics, e scrap, wood, construction aggregate). The future of resource management (currently called solid waste management) is LOCAL not in ASIA.
Massive systems that literally need more wasting to be economical are a dangerous relic of the past. (See, Ecocycle’s History of Garbage Exhibits) They are a financial albatross around the neck of local tax payers, and come with enormous lost opportunity costs for the local economy and overall environment. These opportunity costs are proper infrastructure, lower costs, more jobs and small businesses, expanded tax base for the indefinite future, reduced energy use and environmental damage.
The raw materials in our discard stream are a public resource. To destroy them through incineration/gasification/pyrolysis/plasma arc, dropping MSW into an active Hawaii Island volcano is a gross waste at a time when we need to reduce the economy’s burden on nature.