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https://www.no-burn.org/why-incineration-is-a-very-bad-idea-in-the-twenty-first-century/

Why incineration is a very bad idea in the Twenty First Century

by Paul Connett, PhD

An introduction to myself. I taught environmental chemistry and toxicology at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. I reached the rank of full professor and retired in May 2006. Since 1985 I have researched the dangers of incineration (I have co-authored six papers on dioxin) and have vigorously promoted an alternative strategy consisting of intensive recycling, composting, reuse, repair and re-design “if we can’t reuse it, recycle it or compost, industry shouldn’t be making it.” Today this approach is called the Zero Waste 2020 strategy. This effort has taken me to 49 states in the US, 7 provinces in Canada and 51 other countries. In all I have given over 3000 pro bono presentations, largely to community groups but occasionally some officials deign to listen. On January 12, 2010 I had the honor of giving a presentation “Zero Waste for Sustainability” to the Division for the Sustainable Development at the United Nations.

Sustainability.
I will begin here: after ending war, sustainability is the most crucial challenge our civilization has faced since the beginning of the industrial revolution. On a finite planet we cannot run a throwaway society indefinitely. We have to ape nature and recycle everything we possibly can. We would need four planets if everyone in the world consumed like Americans. We would need two planets if everyone consumed like Europeans. Meanwhile, both India and China, with their massive populations, are hell-bent on copying our “over-consuming” lifestyle. It was India’s Mahatma Gandhi who many years ago said that “the world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” We in the North and the West need to set a better example. Something has to change and the best place to start is with waste. Everyone makes waste, and as such we are all part of living in a non-sustainable way. But if everyone took that first vital step of keeping their discarded materials separate then they could join the movement which would move the world in a sustainable direction.


Incineration is not sustainable.
Every time a community builds a trash incineration it sets back the real solutions by 25 years – the time it takes to pay back the massive investment involved. Every time you burn something you have to go back to the beginning of the linear society (extraction- manufacture-consumption-waste). After 25 years you are no closer to sustainability. All you are left with is a pile of ash of approximately one quarter of the mass of the trash that was burned. Promoters claim that incineration produces energy and fights global warming. This is utter nonsense. Three – four times more energy is saved by recycling the same materials as burned. One European company estimates that a combination of recycling and composting reduces global warming gases some 46 times more than incineration generating electricity (AEA, 2001).

The social costs of incineration are staggering especially in developing countries. The huge amount of money spent on incineration goes into complicated machinery (over half the capital cost is needed for air pollution control) and most of it leaves the country in the pockets of the multinational companies that build these monsters. With the alternatives most of the money goes into creating local jobs and local businesses, thereby staying in the community and the country. In Brescia, Italy, they spent about $400,000,000 building an incinerator and have created just 80 full-time jobs. While Nova Scotia, a province of Canada, after rejecting an incinerator, has created over 3000 jobs in the handling of the discarded resources and in the industries using these secondary materials.

So incineration is neither sound for the planet nor for the local or national economies. However, because this matter is largely in the hands of engineers and engineering consultants the only issue that has dominated their discussion is “Is it safe?”

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