In Switzerland, there are no landfills. Since the early 2000s, all the waste is either recycled or incinerated to produce electricity. How “green” is it to incinerate waste in order to produce electricity? Is it something that South Africa should consider?
Burning rubbish to generate electricity or heat sounds great for “sustainable” energy. Many developed countries have “waste-to-energy” incineration plants and far less material going to landfills. These plants have recycling centres attached to them.
The incineration (high-temperature burning, using sophisticated high-tech equipment) of wastes, particularly non-recyclable municipal waste and a variety of industrial and hazardous waste. In South Africa, medical waste incinerators are the most common type of incinerators.
South Africa has an intensive, growing industrial and manufacturing economy, which results in the generation of general and hazardous wastes that is increasing at an estimated rate of 2-3% annually. The disposal of general and hazardous waste to landfill is the primary option for waste management in the country. Thermal waste treatment options provide a limited opportunity for waste management, as only a small number of commercial and site-specific hazardous waste incinerators exist, and these are used to treat specific waste streams. Similarly, the co-processing of waste as AFR (alternative fuel and raw materials) in cement production is currently practised on a limited scale.
Certain types of wastes including waste solvents, waste oils, POPs and infectious waste, there is no good alternative to incineration. However, it is necessary to ensure that incinerators are designed correctly for adequate destruction and removal efficiency and are equipped with gas cleanup systems that remove potentially hazardous emissions to a level that can pose no risk to nature or humans.
Furthermore, the operating staff must be well educated and must keep records of crucial operating parameters. Lastly, appropriate continuous stack monitoring is required to ensure that the plant is operated according to specifications.