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[greenyes] discussion: landfilling vs incineration with energy recovery

Dear Sharon and others wrestling with the issue of landfilling vs incineration
with energy recovery:

Perhaps the following discussion may shed some light and clarify:

To fully understand and compare landfilling vs. incineration with energy
recovery a Life Cycle Analysis would help to evaluate the impacts of each on a
level playing field. But an LCA would not fully incorporate all of the
interacting issues. For example, and LCA would not provide any measure of
potential for overall pollution prevention activities. Additionally, in
considering the comparisons one needs to consider combustion of different wastes
and look at each of these wastes and their resulting impacts separately to
qualify the issues fairly. For example comparing landfilling a cell phone, or a
ream of paper, or a bag or plastic film is a good place to start. And in each
of these examples one has to realize that there are toxics that may be in the
items or that may form due to burning the item.
1. Once an incinerator is built, reliable waste streams must be ascertained
to keep the burners operating for their dependant energy customers and to pay
back the capitol used to finance them while landfilling is more flexible
offering opportunity and incentive to avoid tipping fees by recycling and
diverting wastes away from landfills.

2. There are negative air impacts to combustion by-products from
a. Pollutants from combustion do escape the air pollution control devices
and are emitted into the environment affecting air quality in the surrounding
region and local communities. These include, SO2, NOx,, CO, CO2, particulate,
HCl, and then toxics such as dioxin and furans, heavy metals such as mercury,
lead, cadmium, chromium and copper and zinc.
b. Pollutants added for the air pollution control devices are also emitted
into the environment. Namely, to control NOx, ammonia is injected and there is
slip of some of the ammonia into the atmosphere. Ammonia is a green house gas.
c. Fugitive dust emissions from WTE operations.
d. Diesel emissions from the shipping of air pollution control sorbent.
Lime, ammonia and carbon are injected into the combustion gases and must be
shipped from their source locations.(mostly midwest)

3. There are negative impacts of the incinerator ash.

a. The incinerator ash itself contains toxicity in the form of lead,
cadmium, mercury, zinc, copper, and other heavy metals. Because burning reduces
the volume of the wastes to ash, the toxicity of the ash is more concentrated
then would be found in the original waste. Also the form of the ash from the
combustion process is a fine silt like particulate different in nature then
prior to burn. The ash with its toxicity may if not managed properly be
released into the environment in ways that may pose greater risks then the waste
prior to burn.

b. Incinerator ash from some facilities is combined with cement and other
chemicals for stabilization. The cement and other stabilizing chemicals must be
shipped and there are diesel emissions from its transport.
d. The incinerator ash must be transferred from the incinerator to an
appropriate landfill causing diesel truck emissions. If the ash tests above the
toxicity thresholds then it must be shipped to a hazardous waste landfill,
nearly 100 miles from LA. And costs for hazardous disposal must be incurred.
landfilling waste ash in a Class III landfill is approximately $10 per ton while
the cost of landfilling waste ash at a hazardous landfill is estimated to be
between $95 to $100 per ton. The closest hazardous landfill is Kettlemens Hill
over 100 miles away from the WTE facilities presenting more diesel shipping
e. Waste incinerator ash from Long beach and Commerce is commonly used
after being mixed with concrete as a roadbase and decking material at the
landfill in lined and unlined areas.
f. To get the ash into a form for road-base material the combined
concrete ash monoliths are mechanically crushed into smaller sized chunks by
heavy diesel burning equipment manded by humans. Fugitive dust may be generated
in this step and workers may be otherwise exposed to possible toxic compounds
that were in the ash and may also be possibly carried away from the site by

The main point emphasized by the above discussion is that there are shipping
emissions that occur in handling wastes that are incinerated that go beyond what
would be incurred in landfilling. Additionally there are greater risks to human
health and the environment associated with incinerated ash as oppposed to non
incinerated ash due to the toxicity and the medium that the toxicity is in.

Toni Stein, PhD
Menlo Park, CA

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