Waste management is one of the most significant issues facing urban communities all over the world. There are various sources of waste in the world today. The EPA notes that the major sources of waste include household garbage, sewage, sludge, construction debris, discarded vehicles, and scrap metal (par. 3). Traditionally, waste has been managed primarily by being disposed into landfills or incinerated. However, recent approaches to waste management favor making use of waste to create energy.
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According to the EPA, waste to energy (WTE) transformation is the “conversion of non-recyclable waste materials into useable heat, electricity, or fuel through a variety of processes, including combustion and gasification” (par. 1). Cheremisinoff notes that the concept of treating waste products to obtain cheap energy has been around for several decades (83). However, this concept has become more prevalent over the last few years as municipal authorities seek to maintain control over waste products and minimize the environmental impacts of the waste disposal process.
Waste-to-energy conversion efforts have a number of significant impacts on the economy, society, and environment. Converting waste to energy presents a way for cities to profit from waste disposal activities. Without implementing WTE processes, waste is disposed of in a way that does not produce any useful product. By converting waste to energy, authorities are able to sell electricity generated from waste. OECD reports that by using modern WTE plants, profits can be realized from waste management efforts (256).
WTE acts as a source of alternative energy that reduces the demand for conventionally produced energy. By making use of waste as the input product for energy production plants, the usage of conventional fuels such as coal and fossil fuels is significantly reduced. This increases energy independence of the country since fossil fuels are mostly imported from the oil-producing countries. WTE significantly reduces the environmental impact of traditional waste disposal methods such as landfill. Once waste has been used to create energy, its volume is significantly reduced. The EPA documents that once waste has been converted into energy through incineration, only 10% of the initial waste volume is recovered as ash to be disposed in the landfills. Creating energy from waste also mitigates the environmental impact of waste by preventing greenhouse gases such as methane from being released into the atmosphere.
In spite of these benefits, there are some notable limitations of this approach. The first significant limitation is that WTE requires significant capital investments. The OECD acknowledges that constructing state-of-the-art WTE plants that meet the stringent environmental regulations is an expensive endeavor (256).
The cost of converting waste to energy is higher than dumping the waste into landfills. Cheremisinoff confirms that landfills are cheaper than any waste-to-energy approach since they only involve transporting the waste to the dumpsite (83). Another limitation is that WTE requires huge amounts of waste in order to be practicable. This makes waste to energy projects unfeasible in regions where low levels of waste are produced. WTE might also discourage cities from carrying out recycling schemes, which are necessary for environmental sustainability.
Using waste to create energy is an important way of managing waste in an environmentally safe manner. This paper has highlighted some of benefits and limitations of transforming waste to energy. From the discussions made, it can be concluded that WTE plants present an environmentally sound way to deal with waste while at the same time benefiting the society by producing clean energy.
Cheremisinoff, Nicholas. Handbook of Solid Waste Management and Waste Minimization Technologies. NY: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003. Print.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Energy Recovery from Waste. 2014. Web.
OECD. OECD Territorial Reviews OECD Territorial Reviews: The Chicago Tri-State Metropolitan Area, United States 2012. London: OECD Publishing, 2012. Print.