Greenpeace Expert: Those Who Support the Use of Refuse-Derived Fuel Are Mistaken


Because it is nonviable economically, let alone environmentally.

At the moment the work is being in the process on the National Strategy for Solid Municipal Waste and Secondary Materials Management for the Republic of Belarus till the year 2035. Along with a number of progressive things, such as introduction of a bottle deposit return scheme, the draft document includes construction of an incinerating plant near Minsk and using refuse-derived fuel (RDF).

We consider that such technologies must not be used in Belarus for economic and ecological reasons”, comments director of the Center for Environmental Solutions Eugeniy Lobanov. “It is impossible to minimize waste production, recycle waste efficiently and build up powers for incinerating waste, in fact secondary raw materials as well. The example of European countries shows us that at some stage it becomes economically nonviable; besides, it creates a big toxic pollution problem. On top of that, in Belarus we will have much fewer financial opportunities to deal with this problem effectively.”

Three problems instead of one

The plans of Belarus to produce RDF a spokesman from Greenpeace Russia Alexey Kiselev considers to be a mistake, and there is a number of reasons for that.

Alexey Kiselev. Photo by Tatiana Kuznetsova

First and foremost, there aren’t that many consumers, cement plants and  metallurgical furnaces. Secondly, RDF is believed to be municipal solid waste that remains after the removal of recyclables and organic materials. Yet it’s virtually impossible to achieve in our realities as there is no overall separate waste collection system on the site of its generation, especially for toxic fractions (chlorinated polymers, paints and varnishes, etc.). In fact, RDF composition is linked directly with morphology of the general solid waste received for recycling. The waste in its turn varies from district to district, from season to season and differs depending on the collection place: office, store or adjacent territory.

Thus when the fuel whose qualitative composition is uncertain gets combusted, there appear some gray areas which are difficult to take into consideration. Besides, it’s important to understand that there are guidelines regulating the amount of refuse-derived fuel used in a furnace, and it’s 30 percent of the heat rate at most.  

Alexey Kiselev stresses that after RDF combusting there stays toxic refuse burnout, for example ashes or scrubber waste products which are regenerated when rinsed, resulting in liquid toxic waste.

 “As a result we have three problems instead of one: secondary waste, emissions and liquid toxic waste. And the plant would have to spend money to solve them,” resumes the ecologist.  

According to Alexey Kiselev, Belarus had better look to the European Union. Today the priority is waste prevention, reuse of goods, separate collection and recycling. In terms of energy recovery more attention should be paid to anaerobic decomposition of organic waste for biogas and fertilizer production.

How Sweden fell into the incineration trap

The spokesman for Greenpeace claims that there are no cases when incineration helped to reduce waste. He gives an example of the USA where not a single incineration plant has been built over the last 25 years, with the number of the operating ones dropping steadily. By the way, RDF combustion is only one of a dozen of ways of high-temperature waste management.

Those who support waste incineration hold up Sweden as a model. Sweden buys waste from other countries to convert it into heat and electricity. Still, behind this seemingly well-meaning action stands a purely pragmatic reason: big money was invested into Swedish incineration plants, and long-term operation contracts were made, so they just have to feed the plants with the foreign waste to avoid financial penalties for the operational down time. At the same time, the new EU directive demands that by 2030 Sweden would reach the 65 percent level in their local waste recycling. Incineration isn’t recycling, that’s why they have to import waste.

 “Sweden is a good example which shows that incineration is not only technological but also social and economic dead end,” emphasizes Alexey.

Dangerous reality  

There exist two technologies for municipal waste incineration mainly distinguished by the type of an incinerator. The first one provides stratified burning when hot air flow is supplied on a waste stratum loaded onto a burning grate. The other one uses a fluidized bed technology. In it waste is first divided into homogenous fractions to later be incinerated in a special chamber with the help of sand, dolomite chips or any other absorbing agent with high thermal conductivity.

“It hasn’t changed for the last 25 years. And waste incineration has always been the most hazardous waste management method,” warns the ecologist.

It’s a common thing for someone who supports incineration when talking about its safety for the environment and human health to refer to the European experience but forget to mention that in Europe for at least two decades selective sorting of waste has been practiced, including separate collection of compost and toxic waste. It allows to decrease the class of hazard of the recyclables and enhance the efficiency of secondary sorting of general waste, the level of removing those fractions which mustn’t be incinerated. This is another reason why the waste gases are less hazardous.

Yet, globally there is no incineration plant with zero toxic emissions. The populations are affected by the incineration plants when they breathe in potentially polluted air or eat foods from contaminated territories. What’s more, the imperfect waste collection and utilization system in Belarus and Russia makes waste incineration even more hazardous.

Money down the drain

Incineration of waste is the most expensive waste management method. According to K. D. Panfilov Public Service Academy of Russia, incineration plant construction gets twice as much investment as opening of recycling companies. Their operating expenses are two times higher as well. These figures are confirmed by the calculations contained in the feasibility study of the Greenpeace project “Trash Revolution” introduced in Saint-Petersburg; it is based on non-thermal waste management solutions.

Calculation for Moscow showed that the incineration technology, despite it allows to decrease the produced waste by 90%, turns out to be the most expensive of all – 357 rubles (approximately $6.2) for 1m3 of waste. At the same time the combination of waste sorting, composting and compressing is more efficient. Even with co-mingled collection waste generation can be reduced by 88%, with the cost of 222 rubles (approximately $3.6) for 1m3.  If trash, garbage and contaminated waste was collected separately, the expenses on recycling would be even lower, around 60 rubles (approximately $1) for 1m3, which is about the same cost as burial and six times cheaper than incineration of waste.

Таким образом, если даже не принимать во внимание токсичность выбросов, сбросов и отходов мусоросжигания, эта технология не имеет перспектив по экономическим соображениям. Оптимальной же схемой признано разделение отходов на три потока: сухие (их можно сортировать и продавать в качестве вторичного сырья), влажные (их можно подвергнуть биологическому разложению) и не подлежащие переработке (их можно прессовать для уменьшения объёма).

Так можно при минимальных вложениях сократить объёмы мусора в 25 (!) раз – до четырёх процентов от первоначального количества.

What about neighbors?

Today in Russia there function a number of incineration plants. The largest ones are in Novokuznetsk region, in Kursk, Krasnoyarsk, Orenburg and a few in the vicinities of the capital city. Their work can’t but affect the population. In Murmansk and Vladivostok, for example, people smell a rat and organize protests against opening those plants, as the spokesman for Greenpeace told us.

Recently another project of building five incineration plants (four in Moscow region and one in the Republic of Tatarstan) was adopted in Russia. The project was dubbed “Clean Country”. Yet, the active exploiting of waste incineration technologies contradicts the current legislation and major public policy in waste management according to which development of waste incineration in Russia is unacceptable. 

 “This is what it must look like: waste should only be incinerated when it can’t be prevented, reused or recycled. But we have it the other way round,” sighs the expert. “However, we must and can fight against it.”

Leave a comment: