Is there such a thing as safe and green incinerators? Do those cutting-edge incinerators in developed countries like Sweden emit pollutants in quantities that can negatively affect human health and deteriorate the environment (GHG aside)? If it's a bad method of waste management then why is it so widespread in the EU that sets store by environmental sustainability?
Waste disposal is a big problem, particularly in high population density countries with limited land.
Land fill disposal of waste is increasing becoming a problem due to diminishing land availability for dumping waste. Some waste can be toxic which could contaminate the environment and underground water sources. Once filled, the dumps are buried. Usually this can be problematic due to land subsidence afterwards, particularly when houses are constructed on such land. Also it is not uncommon for methane to form in such dumps and be a problem afterwards.
Incineration of waste solves many problems, and it creates others. Land does not need to be used for dumping waste, the amount of solid waste produced by incineration (ash) is much smaller that the original amount of solid waste. Heat from the incinerator provides energy that can be useful to nearby communities. The heat from incinerators can either produce some electricity and/or heat for houses, such as the one at Högdalenverket in Sweden.
The houses will need to be heated by some means and heat from incinerators displaces other energy sources that might be used such a fire wood, oil, gas or more electricity.
Sometimes in these matters it is a case of which is the lesser evil.
For the disposal of toxic industrial wastes high temperature incineration is currently the least worst option - we don't have any good options other than to not produce the wastes. Such wastes cannot be dumped into landfill due to the potential to contaminate the environment and they cannot easily be converted into something less toxic.
There is no green incinerator.
You have to understand the flow of materials:
- Let's say a material is based on fossil oil. The oil is pumped from the ground, then it goes to making the product and the carbon stays in the product. Then the product is either buried in a landfill (carbon never released to the atmosphere) or incinerated (carbon released to the atmosphere). See the problem?
- Ok, somebody could claim that if the material is based on a biological source such as wood, it has captured the carbon in it from the atmosphere. Surely the situation is now different, right? Wrong! If the product is buried in a landfill, it becomes a permanent carbon sink. If the product is incinerated, it releases the carbon to the atmosphere.
It is a lie that incineration can be green. It emits carbon dioxide. Even if the carbon dioxide is from a biological source, the carbon could have been permanently stored in a landfill, creating a permanent carbon sink.