As part of Decco’s proposed plan to implement an integrated solid waste management system, a facility will be constructed to recover energy from waste that would otherwise be landfilled. This waste-to-energy plant would produce approximately eight per cent of the total electrical energy currently required to power Grand Cayman.
Several myths continue to affect public perception of this technology. Here is a list of the top five myths around waste-to-energy.
1. Waste-to-energy facilities produce harmful air emissions.
A modern waste-to-energy facility has little in common with the older smoke-belching incinerators of the past. The old way of burning trash gave little consideration to air pollution and missed a valuable opportunity to recover energy in the process. Since the early 1990s, emissions from waste combustors have declined dramatically. The United States Environmental Protection Agency says waste-to-energy facilities now generate less greenhouse gas emissions than coal or oil and are on par with natural gas.
2. Recycling is a better solution.
While recycling and waste-to-energy facilities are often pitted against each other in public discourse, the reality is that both are important aspects of Grand Cayman’s waste management hierarchy. However, not all products can be recycled locally. Although Plastics 1 and 2 are collected for recycling, many other types of plastic currently have nowhere to go but the landfill. The waste-to-energy facility will provide the opportunity to reduce the amount of unrecyclable waste that heads to the landfill.
3. Waste-to-energy facilities discourage recycling.
Rather than discouraging recycling, waste-to-energy facilities actually seem to encourage recycling. Statistics from the U.S. and Europe actually demonstrate a positive correlation between waste-to-energy facilities and recycling rates. Countries like Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and Belgium have the lowest levels of landfilling, yet also have the highest levels of recycling and recovering energy from waste.
4. Waste-to-energy facilities contribute to climate change.
Contrary to popular belief, waste-to-energy plants are a net benefit for the climate and are reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. EPA, nearly one tonne of greenhouse gas emissions are avoided for every tonne of municipal solid waste processed at waste-to-energy facilities. The carbon stored within products made from living organisms would be released whether those products end up in a landfill or a waste-to-energy facility, but by sending them to the latter, energy is generated that would otherwise come from fossil fuel-powered generators.
5. The ash produced is contaminated and cannot be used.
The combustion process in waste-to-energy facilities produces two types of ash: bottom ash and fly ash. Bottom ash contains value that can be removed, reused and recycled. Metals, for example, can be removed and sold to overseas buyers, while the remaining bottom ash can be used as secondary aggregate in construction. Although fly ash on its own is classed as a hazardous material, with further treatment, the ash can be safely disposed of in an engineered landfill or made suitable as an additive in concrete or asphalt.