Myth: Incinerators provide a solution to the problem of rapidly increasing waste.
Reality: Incinerators do not make municipal solid waste magically disappear. Indeed, they encourage waste generation and current patterns of production and consumption, which are at the root of solid waste problems. Incinerators are the most costly of all solid waste management options, result in air and water pollution, and still need to be supplemented by landfills as they produce an ash that is far more toxic than ordinary domestic trash. Source
Myth: Waste incineration is a source of renewable energy.
Reality: Municipal waste is non-renewable, consisting of discarded materials such as paper, plastic and glass that are derived from finite natural resources such as forests that are being depleted at unsustainable rates. Burning these materials in order to generate electricity creates a demand for “waste” and discourages much- needed efforts to conserve resources, reduce packaging and waste and encourage recycling and composting. More than 90% of materials currently disposed of in incinerators and landfills can be reused, recycled and composted. Providing subsidies or incentives for incineration encourages local governments to destroy these materials, rather than investing in environmentally sound and energy conserving practices such as recycling and composting. Source
Myth: Modern incinerators produce less carbon dioxide than alternatives.
Reality: Burning waste contributes to climate change.Incinerators emit more carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of electricity (2988 lbs/MWh) than coal-fired power plants. (2249 lbs/MWh). According to the U.S. EPA, “waste to energy” incinerators and landfills contribute far higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions and overall energy throughout their lifecycles than source reduction, reuse and recycling of the same materials. Incineration also drives a climate changing cycle of new resources pulled out of the earth, processed in factories, shipped around the world, and then wasted in incinerators and landfills. Source
Myth: Incinerators maximize the use of scarce landfill space.
Reality: Communities with incinerators still need landfills for ash disposal and by-pass wastes. Ash can comprise about 25% by weight of an incinerator’s throughput and must be landfilled. Thus, incineration means incineration plus landfill. There are two kinds of by-pass waste: bulky materials that do not fit into the incinerator (such as mattresses), and collected waste that cannot be burned when the incinerator is down for regularly scheduled or unscheduled maintenance. These materials typically require landfilling in communities that have built incinerators. On the other hand, embracing zero waste as a planning tool and a vision for the future will extend landfill life and help build a sustainable system to avoid waste and recover materials. Source
Myth: Incineration is less expensive than other options, including recycling and “sanitary” landfills and incineration yields electricity, a useful by-product.
Reality: Incineration is the most costly of all waste management options. Costs cannot be offset with energy revenues. Consider Rhode Island’s (U.S.) 1992 law that banned municipal solid waste incineration in the state: “...incineration of solid waste is the most costly method of waste disposal with known and unknown escalating costs which would place substantial and unreasonable burdens on both state and municipal budgets to the point of jeopardizing the public’s interest.” In general, incineration costs 5 to 10 times more per ton than sanitary landfills, even after discounting energy revenues. If incineration is cost-competitive with landfilling, recycling, or other options, residents of the global South should be concerned that such “cheap” incinerators do not have the pollution control equipment that their counterparts in countries with more stringent regulations might have. With regard to energy, considerably more energy can be saved through alternative strategies such as waste prevention, reuse, recycling, and composting than can be generated by burning. Three to five times more energy can be saved by recycling than by burning materials. Source
Myth: Local communities prefer incinerators to landfills.
Reality: Incinerators, like landfills, are highly unpopular among local communities. Knowledgeable community activists the world over have fought to prevent construction of incinerators. Hundreds of projects have been cancelled or put on hold as a result of citizen opposition. In the U.S., Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Diego, Boston and other cities have cancelled proposed municipal waste incinerators. In the Netherlands, citizens organized to defeat a US$700-million incinerator proposed for a suburb of The Hague, then organized a national network against all proposed and operating incinerators in the country. In Germany, some 500 grassroots groups oppose incineration. As public opposition to the construction of new incinerators in the west continues to grow, western incineration industries are pushing their unwanted technology east. Source
Myth: Incinerators are safe and more environmentally benign than landfills.
Reality: Incinerators increase risk of environmental and health threats as compared to other waste management alternatives. In addition to the threat to groundwater from ash disposal, incineration creates large amounts of air pollution. Incinerators are major – and in many areas the largest – sources of pollutants such as dioxin, lead, and other heavy metals released into the environment. They also release carbon monoxide, oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, hydrocarbons, and particulates into the air. Source
Myth: Incinerators provide jobs for communities.
Reality: Recycling creates 10-20 times more jobs than incinerators. Incinerators require huge capital investment, but they offer relatively few jobs when compared to recycling. With a national recycling rate of less than 33%, the U.S. recycling industries currently provide over 800,000 jobs. A national recycling rate of 75% would create 1.5 million jobs. Source