Incineration is not sustainable and poses threat to environment

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 May, 2014, 3:37am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 May, 2014, 3:37am

Waste sent to incinerators, landfills and waste-to-energy plants is a major source of global warming gases and chemical air, water and earth pollutants. Organic food and green waste converted to biogas and fuels exacerbate this harmful pollution while incurring energy losses of up to 80 per cent.

These short-sighted solutions convert our so-called waste problem into the extremely dangerous global warming climate change problem, which a recent UN report has said will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.

This completely avoidable action is perverse and unsustainable, destroying nature, our environment and ecosystems. The earth is sending its own warnings to us with increasing regularity.

Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz told a joke at a recent conference in Macau on the environment. There are two planets, one happy, the other unhappy. The happy planet says, "What's wrong?" The unhappy planet says, "People." The happy planet laughs and replies, "Don't worry, that's temporary."

Atmospheric research pioneer Ralph Keeling has talked about a "fossil carbon to air" problem. Private and public waste interests - which are inextricably linked - are deliberately blind to the catastrophic consequences of their activities.

Hong Kong's proposed mega-incinerator, landfill extensions, the exorbitant biogas energy plants producing unwanted fertiliser, and the world's largest sewage quad incinerator now being tested at Tuen Mun, all completely fail the global warming test by creating vast amounts of "fossil carbon to air".

Two recent articles in the South China Morning Post referred to the Netherlands' waste rates. The first quoted a recycling rate of 80 per cent, incineration at 16 per cent and landfill 4 per cent. The second report gave different figures - recycling 68 per cent, waste to energy 30 per cent and landfill 2 per cent. If local recycling rates were 68 per cent to 80 per cent, then the direct conclusion is that there would be no need for any landfill extensions. This is clearly confirmed by the negligible Dutch landfill figures.

The European Union has mandated that, by 2020, no recyclables or organic food and green waste can be sent either to incinerators or landfills. This means Dutch incineration will be gradually phased out due to the lack of legal feedstock, as will the remaining landfills.

Similarly, incineration is not sustainable and poses a threat to our environment. Combustion and landfills must be replaced by planet-friendly comprehensive recycling.

Peter Reid, chairman, Zero Waste Smart City Resources Association Ltd