Waste incineration saves resources and protects the climate
Protection of the climate and resources is one of the key topics at the Entsorga-Enteco the international trade fair for waste management and environmental technology from October 27th to 30th, 2009, in Cologne. Waste incineration makes an important contribution to coping with these two major challenges of this century.
The role of waste incineration has changed thoroughly in the past few years. Formerly viewed by citizens' action committees as a pollutant-spewing, technical monster, thermal waste treatment facilities today are viewed as important pillars of sustainable, future-oriented recycling and raw materials management. The climate is protected by the energy generated by them. By recycling your waste materials, valuable resources are saved at the same time. The trigger for this development: Since June 1, 2005, waste in the Federal Republic may only be used for landfill if it has been subjected to treatment first so that substances contained in it have been inertised, and hence no further harmful reactions can take place with its surroundings in the landfill body. By fulfilling the requirements of the Waste Disposal Act as well as the Landfill Ordinance, waste incineration has taken a central role in waste management. The results of this policy are that in 2006, 24 percent of the approximate 46 million tons of municipal solid waste were incinerated. Only 6 percent was used for landfill; however, 70 percent was recycled. Five years earlier, the relations in this disposal path were quite different: 22 percent incineration, 27 percent landfill, and 51 percent recycling. As a comparison, across Europe, 48 percent of this waste is used for landfill, 36 percent is recycled and only 17 percent is incinerated. Meanwhile, there are 72 municipal solid waste incineration plants across Germany, which makes five plants more than in 2005. They have a total capacity of just short of 18 million tons per year.
The main job of waste incineration is still to reduce the volume of the waste as well as to destroy potentially harmful substances. Meanwhile, however, it is a matter of course for the plant operators to extract and utilise the energy still contained in the waste. It's no wonder. The increasing world market prices for petroleum and gas make generating economical electricity and heat from rubbish more and more attractive.
However, European legislation is creating new incentives. For example, the incineration of waste will be classified as an act of recycling in the future in the new Waste Framework Directive passed in mid 2008. The prerequisite is that energy efficiency of at least 60 percent is reached for existing plants and 65 percent for new plants. The benefit for the operators is that waste, which is recycled energetically, is subject to the principal of free movement of goods and can be purchased across the borders in the EU. Waste that can only be disposed of, in contrast, must be disposed of close to where it is produced. In any case, according to the calculations of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (Ifeu, Heidelberg), more than half of all German waste incineration plants already meet the efficiency criteria of the Waste Framework Directive for recycling plants. The energy that is produced nation-wide through waste incineration was 6 terawatt hours (TWh) and 17 TWh of heat in 2006. With it, a large city like Berlin could be supplied, according to the Office of the Environment (UBA, Dessau). At the same time, fossil energy sources are saved so that the environment is relieved of just short of 4 million tons of CO2 emissions each year. This is the same as the climate gas emissions of around 1.6 million cars.
According to a study by the Eco Institute (Freiburg), it is possible to save an additional 3 million tons of CO2 through further improvements to energy efficiency in waste incineration. Work is currently being done in many areas starting with optimisation of the internal power consumption of the plants, continuing with increasing the level of boiler efficiency and improvements to heat recovery, up to increasing the current efficiency.
However, work is also being done on better techniques for recycling the incinerator plant's waste materials. Magnetic separators for sorting out ferrous metals are in the German waste incinerator plant standard. However, there is also increasing use of eddy current separators to be able to capture and market non-ferrous metals such as aluminium, copper, brass, or chrome, which are constantly increasing in price. 80 percent of slag and filter dust is already being recycled, mainly as a mine filler or in road construction.
The contribution made by modern technologies to increase the energy yield and the utilisation of residues from waste incineration is being shown at the Entsorga-Enteco the international trade show for waste management and environmental technology from October 27th to 30th, 2009, at the Cologne exhibition grounds.