Home Articles WASTE-TO-ENERGY – A Solution for the World’s 2-Billion-Ton Trash Problem

WASTE-TO-ENERGY – A Solution for the World’s 2-Billion-Ton Trash Problem

by Linda Bertelsen
Waste to energy

Waste incineration

At a modern waste cogeneration plant, the energy in the non-recyclable waste is utilized while protecting the environment. Spreading the modern incineration method globally, hence waste not thrown in a landfill, will represent a global environmental and climate quantum leap.

By Henrik Søndergaard, editor at DBDH

Today, merely 19% of all waste is recycled or composted, while 11% is incinerated. The rest is sent to landfills (37%) or openly dumped 33%).
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – IPPC Waste Management report, waste is a contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The largest source is landfill methane (CH4), followed by wastewater CH4 and nitrous oxide (N2O). Minor emissions of carbon dioxide (CO ) result from the incineration of waste containing fossil carbon (C) (plastics; synthetic textiles)
Landfill is the worst of all solutions – and by far the most popular!

Landfill gas (LFG) is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material in landfills. LFG is composed of roughly 50 percent methane (the primary component of natural gas), 50 percent carbon dioxide (CO ), and a small amount of non-methane organic compounds. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas 28 to 36 times more effective than CO at trapping heat in the atmosphere over 100 years, per the latest IPCC assessment report (AR5).

Existing waste-management practices can provide effective mitigation of GHG emissions from this sector: a wide range of mature, environmentally effective technologies are available to mitigate emissions and provide public health, environmental protection, and sustainable development co-benefits. These technologies can directly reduce GHG emissions through landfill gas recovery, improved landfill practices, engineered wastewater management, or avoid significant GHG generation through controlled composting of organic waste, expanded sanitation coverage, and state-of-the-art incineration.

Incineration and industrial co-combustion for Waste-to Energy (WtE) provide significant renewable energy benefits and fossil fuel offsets. Currently, >130 million tonnes of waste per year are incinerated at over 600 plants. Thermal processes with advanced emission controls are proven technology but more costly than controlled landfilling with landfill gasrecovery; however, thermal processes become more viable as energy prices increase.

The total global economic mitigation potential for reducing landfill CH4 emissions in 2030 is estimated to be >1000 MtCO eq (or 70% of estimated emissions) at costs below 100 US$/tCO -eq/yr.
• 20–30% of projected emissions for 2030 can be reduced at negative cost
• 30–50% at costs <20 US$/tCO -eq/yr.
• More significant emission reductions are achievable at higher costs, with most of the additional mitigation potential coming from thermal processes for WtE.

Waste is a resource for green energy. Waste is a valuable resource for organic content turned into biogas or incinerated for producing electricity and district heating (DH).

See here how one of the best Waste-to-Energy plants in the World operates:

Copenhill - How it worksRead the article and see the drawing in the Hot Cool magazine here.

mEET The author

Henrik Søndergaard
Editor at DBDH
“Waste-to-Energy – A Solution for the World’s 2-Billion-Ton Trash Problem” was published in Hot Cool, edition no. 3/2021
Copenhill - How it works
Download the article and see the full size figure here