Population growth, increase in consumption, diminishing landfill space and strict quality requirements in recycling markets are putting pressure on waste management systems across the world. Energy-from-waste is a safe and sustainable way of managing residual waste that cannot be recycled.
The role of energy-from-waste in waste management
The waste hierarchy demonstrates how to maximise the value from waste as a resource as the quality of that material reduces. It reflects the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra that we used to repeat in school, with a couple of new steps to round it out.
The most preferred method of managing waste is to avoid it in the first place. Where this isn’t possible, the next steps are to ‘reduce’ the amount of waste created, to ‘reuse’ materials in their original or repurposed form, to ‘recycle’ the material into a new product, to ‘recover’ resource such as energy from waste that can’t be recycled, and then finally treating waste for final disposal.
To manage waste better, we need to find ways to work at higher levels of the waste hierarchy.
How countries around the world are managing their waste
Europe’s advanced waste management systems are decades ahead of the rest of the world. Unlike Australia, many European cities are land-poor meaning they needed to find alternatives to landfill decades ago.
Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands are all achieving upwards of 99% diversion of household waste from landfill compared to Australia’s 55%. Interestingly, their rates of recycling and composting are similar to ours, but these countries have managed to divert more waste than we have. While there is certainly improvement to be made in recycling more, there is still a significant gap.
What’s the missing link?
Energy-from-waste for waste that cannot be recycled
Energy-from-waste is used to describe the process of taking waste that cannot be recycled, applying combustion technology to recover stored energy, then converting it into electricity and heat that can be used by businesses and communities. There are currently more than 2000 energy-from-waste facilities operating across the world.
Pictured: Energy-from-waste plant in Lakeside, London with 100% diversion rate.
Why is energy-from-waste so popular?
Energy-from-waste has clear benefits in managing non-recyclable waste. It has been used safely and effectively overseas for decades and it creates energy and heat from otherwise wasted resources.
While energy-from-waste is not the single solution to sustainable waste management, it is an important piece of the waste management puzzle.
Works hand-in-hand with recycling
Energy-from-waste does not cannibalise or remove the need for recycling. It works alongside recycling processes, and even contributes to recycling outcomes through the recovery of metals out of the ash. Because the technology is used only for unrecyclable waste, it enhances the need for education on best recycling practices – a need that many energy-from-waste projects actively support communities and businesses with.
Countries such as Germany and Netherlands have achieved very high recycling rates and use energy-from-waste to deal with unrecyclable waste. Many world-class facilities have an education centre onsite to encourage learning about all levels of the waste hierarchy and how energy-from-waste and recycling fits within it.
Highly engineered and regulated
Many people associate energy-from-waste with the old incinerators of the past, however, modern energy-from-waste facilities are highly engineered to ensure the best environmental performance.
Control systems and emissions are tightly regulated and closely monitored by governing bodies. In fact, energy-from-waste is one of the most highly regulated industries in the world, resulting in the continuous refinement of the technology over the years.
Safe for the environment and people
Approximately half of the size of these facilities are dedicated to multi-step flue gas treatment systems that clean the gases before they leave the facility. This ensures that emissions are safe and do not pose a risk to surrounding communities or the environment.
Energy-from-waste also provides environmental benefits through net reductions in climate change causing gases. Generally, these savings are created through the avoidance of methane gas (generated when organic material breaks down in landfill) which is 25-28 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
These facilities also do not emit odour as they suck air into the facility and the combustion process destroys odour molecules.
Social benefits for communities
Energy-from-waste facilities creates jobs in construction and in operating and maintaining facilities. Many facilities (such as the Dublin energy-from-waste facility) also support residents through community funds for the development of educational, recreational, or environmental projects and works which benefit the local area.
Western Sydney Energy and Resource Recovery Centre (WSERRC)
WSERRC is a proposed energy-from-waste facility that turns non-recyclable red bin waste into electricity to power thousands of homes in Western Sydney. It is modelled on modern facilities that exist overseas, carrying the same safety credentials and delivering the same environmental, social and economic benefits enjoyed by international communities.
Located at Wallgrove Road in the industrial area of Eastern Creek, WSERRC will be designed and constructed using international best practice and technology. Using the most proven combustion technology used worldwide, called moving grate technology, and a best-in-class flue gas treatment system, WSERRC aims to convert 500,000 tonnes of waste (just 1/3 of western Sydney’s red bin waste!) to generate enough electricity to power over 65,000 homes and businesses.
There will also be the recovery of metals from the ash for recycling – metals that would otherwise be sent to landfill, and reuse of the ash in construction processes. Once accepting waste, the WSERRC will create a net reduction of climate change gases equivalent to more than 450,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. This is the same as around 100,000 cars off our roads annually!
The construction of WSERRC will create over 800 jobs and there will be in excess of 50 local jobs created to operate the Centre. A state-of-the-art Visitor and Education Centre will also be constructed as an integral part of the facility, providing a central hub for the community to learn about waste as a resource, recycling, the circular economy and energy from waste – complete with tours accessible by all.
Visit energyandresourcecentre.com.au to learn more about the WSERRC proposal or contact us at 1800 97 37 72 to get involved.