Plastic waste: better to burn?

October 16, 2012 4:49 pm Published by

Plastic waste: better to burn?

( — Burning plastic can give off less carbon dioxide than burying it, scientists claim in a Royal Society of Chemistry journal.

Municipal solid waste was addressed in the journal article. It can be used as a remarkable energy supply.  The authors of the Energy and Environmental Science article, Ola Eriksson (University of Gävle, Sweden) and Göran Finnveden (Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden), explore advantages of incineration for non-recyclable plastic as compared to disposal of plastic in landfills. Obviously, incineration of plastics produces much more CO2 than burying it in a landfill. But, when incineration of the plastic is combined with the recovered energy it will  produce less CO2 than if it was buried in a landfill. In addition, in European countries, such as Sweden, landfill disposal of non-recyclable plastic is more expensive than incineration.

In Northern Europe combustion of MSW (incineration with energy recovery) in combination with district heating systems is quite common. In Sweden, about 47% of the household waste is incinerated to recover energy. Most common incineration plants are CHP, and provide about 0.3% of the total electricity generation. In general, recycling of plastic is a favorable solution in comparison to landfill disposal or incineration. But, all those non-recyclable plastics have a low quality for recycling. Incineration of plastics with high efficiency and high electricity-to-heat ratios is a compatible solution with less environmental impact while providing a net negative contribution to greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, these highly-efficiency plastic incineration plants are not common throughout Europe and in most cases plastic incineration produces a high net emission of CO2. Eriksson emphasizes that they want European policy makers to think carefully about how they dispose of non-recyclable plastics. He wants them to “reconsider this policy to not put any plastic in landfill because, in some cases, it can be worth it,” he said.


More information: Ola Eriksson, Energy Environ. Sci., 2009, DOI: 10.1039/b908135f



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