Danger of Waste to Energy

Waste to Energy looks like a green solution to our waste crisis, and a neat way to solve energy prices at the same time. But Friends of the Earth Melbourne is concerned that the strong interest both the ALP and the Coalition are showing in Waste to Energy fails to take into account serious problems, such as health issues and future impacts on our recycling.

Craig is highly dubious of Waste to Energy as a solution for Australia- he found that most “recycled” soft plastics in Sweden actually ended up incinerated!  See 26 minute doco here.

Our major concern is that it isn’t “clean energy”

  • In a report prepared for the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, it’s noted that burning the waste doesn’t cause it to disappear – 15-25% of the waste that goes in remains as ash at the end.
  • The report further says that the incineration process produces highly toxic filter cake, which will need to be disposed of in hazardous waste landfill.
  • In The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, researchers highlighted “significant risks associated with waste incineration as a form of waste management.” They site various studies that have linked Waste to Energy to: blood, bowel and lung cancer; plastics in the bloodstream and breast milk; mercury, lead and arsenic in the bloodstream; toxins in food grown locally; reproductive impacts like preterm delivery, reduced sperm count and birth defects.
  • The researchers state that “there is insufficient evidence to conclude that any incinerator is safe” and “the financial and ecological costs of waste to energy are comparably high.” They conclude that “community groups have a basis for legitimate concern” in regards to health impacts.

It is unfair to impose these health risks on the people of the La Trobe Valley, Laverton and Craigieburn.

We’re also worried that it will get in the way of better solutions

  • Our society relies on massive consumption of single use packaging and very low levels of recycling. Waste to Energy gives us the impression we can keep on with business as usual, but in fact we need to make massive changes in how we make, consume and re-use resources. 

    We need to transition rapidly away from our reliance on mass production of waste into a ‘closed loop’ system with greatly enhanced resource recovery and effective recycling systems, better regulation to reduce the production of waste (for instance, container deposit legislation) and stronger requirements around corporate responsibility.

  • Waste to Energy locks us into long-term contracts (25 years) to keep producing waste. Local governments in the United States have been sued by companies that manage Waste to Energy plants for not providing enough feedstock.

We have so many other things we need to implement before we start thinking about Waste to Energy

  • Food and organics recycling (FOGO) - Local governments have led the way- we just need state policy to support recycling our discarded food! This would rescue approximately 40% of the average Victorian bin from going to landfill, where it releases greenhouse gases as it rots. Instead, it will be turned into compost, a re-usable product.
  • A Container Deposit Scheme (10 cents on bottles and cans) - Every other state and territory in Australia has one or has committed to one, and they have so many benefits: reducing litter and the amount of debris in our oceans, improving recycling rates and generating income for charities.
  • Ban on unnecessary single-use plastics - Europe is doing it, South Australia is doing it – it’s time we curb our plastic obsession with government intervention. This is the appropriate follow on action from banning the single use plastic bag, which started on 1 November.

Concerned about these issues? You can take action by visiting transformwaste.org.au