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Waste to energy : Discover 3 ways how waste to energy supports circular economy

Keppel Seghers
© Keppel Seghers

1. Stop wasting waste

Today, the world's population produces about 2bio tons of municipal solid waste per year, and that number should increase to 3,4bio tons per year by 2050, according to the World Bank. Today, 70% of the waste produced is still landfilled. With other words: every second, humanity dumps 45 000 kg of waste.

The problem is that landfilling generates air pollution, water contamination, soil degradation, plastic dissemination, disease- and virus propagation, definitive loss of the materials that are landfilled, and methane production.

Methane is 80 times more harmful for the climate than CO2 in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. In average 1 ton of waste in a landfill represents roughly up to the equivalent of 5 tons of CO2 emitted in the atmosphere under the form of methane and CO2. So, reducing landfilling is a low hanging fruit in the fight against climate change.

Waste to energy is a smart way to divert waste from landfilling: it produces clean renewable energy and recyclables from waste that have been diverted from landfills.

2. Recycle the unrecyclable

Landfilling can be reduced by better product design coupled with a commitment by all of us to reduce, reuse, and recycle at significantly increased levels than it is evident today.

Recycling of glass, metals, paper, or PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastic is common today. But not all materials are recyclable.

- toxic or contaminated materials -remember the paraben in the plastic of baby bottles, for example. While they are used as preservative ingredients in cosmetics, hygiene products, food products and pharmaceuticals, scientific studies suggest that parabens can disrupt hormones in the body and harm fertility. If you recycle the baby bottle, you keep the paraben in contact with end users.

- composite materials - a shoe for example is made of a lot of different materials that are challenging to segregate in an economic and environmentally sound manner. With other words, the environmental benefit of recycling those materials will be inferior to the environmental impact of recycling it -energy consumption, by products of recycling, impurity of the recycled product.

- and materials that already have been recycled several times and have lost their proprieties. Paper for example can only be recycled 5 times.

Waste to energy enables the partial recycling of non-recyclable materials and offers a unique alternative to landfill, by enabling the recycling of ferrous- and non-ferrous metals and mineral aggregates.

If we consider all the Waste-to-Energy plants in Europe, it would be possible to recover almost 1.2 million tonnes of iron, enough to make 164 Eiffel towers, and about 250.000 tonnes of aluminium per year, the amount needed to produce around 8 billion smartphones.

3. Recirculate carbon

Waste to energy produces a clean energy. Moreover, 50 to 60% of the energy produced is considered renewable. Indeed, the energy comes from the combustion of the biogenic fraction of waste (wood, unrecyclable paper, - food waste), which contains biogenic carbon. Biogenic carbon comes from CO2 that was originally present in the atmosphere and is for example taken up by trees and enters the Waste to Energy installation through waste such as paper. When this paper is combusted, biogenic CO2 is emitted back to the air. This CO2 is considered carbon neutral and for this reason the energy produced is considered renewable. In a way, waste to energy participates to the circular carbon cycle.

At Keppel Seghers, we are working on innovative ideas to recycle more of the residues- and capture the CO2 produced by waste to energy plants to make them even more circular.