There is nothing to fear from a waste-to-energy facility, says Angelos Bacopoulos, president of Bacopo Environmental Solutions, Inc. in Toronto. In fact, he thinks waste-to-energy is easily the best solution for managing Grand Cayman’s solid waste.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “You need energy. You need to manage your waste. If you can do that in one process, why would you look at anything else? You can take care of two major societal needs with one process … and the alternative is a landfill.”
Bacopoulos visited Grand Cayman last month to speak at the 2018 Caribbean Transitional Energy Conference on Sept. 13 -14 at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa. In his talk, titled “Waste as a Renewable Resource,” Bacopoulos spoke about his experience and knowledge of waste-to-energy plants in Ontario, as well as throughout the world.
“There are more than 600 municipal solid waste combustion facilities throughout the world that process about 118 million tons of solid waste each year,” he said, noting that waste-to-energy facilities have long been established and are working well on several island countries in the region including Bermuda, Martinique and Saint Barthélemy; the first two produce electricity and the last one produces potable water.
He said people on Grand Cayman produce about one kilogram of municipal solid waste per person, per day. The typical composition of that solid waste around the world would include 46 per cent organic materials, along with paper, plastic, glass, metal and various other materials. However, studies have shown the make-up of Grand Cayman’s solid waste has a higher percentage of paper and plastics than in other places around the world, Bacopoulos said.
“For the purposes of waste-to-energy, that is a good thing,” he said. “The highest caloric value [for combustion purposes] of common municipal solid waste components come from plastics
The typical reason people are leery about waste-to-energy facilities in new markets is their worry about emissions, Bacopoulos said, pointing out, however, that waste-to-energy facilities are subject to some of the most stringent standards in the world. The technology that cleans emissions has evolved to the extent that the United States, the world’s third largest waste-to-energy user, processed more than 27 million tons of solid waste in 2012 and in doing so, produced only 3.4 grams of dioxins — a figure that represented a mere 0.54 per cent of the controlled industrial dioxin emissions in the United States.
“In Europe, you’ll find waste-to-energy facilities right next to daycare centres,” he said. “People in Europe don’t even care if there’s a waste-to-energy facility right next to them because it’s so ingrained that they are safe.”
Bacopoulos said he has been involved in more than 50 public meetings in places where waste-to-energy plants have been planned for the first time. He said that when these meetings start, he finds the majority of people are in favour of waste-to-energy plants, but that invariably, a “vocal minority” will stand up and start trumpeting the negative aspects.
“The vocal minority are … relentless,” he said. “They will hammer and hammer and hammer, even if you answer all their questions. No matter what you tell them, they won’t accept it.”
Bacopoulos said public information campaigns are essential, but they need to be managed in a way that the naysayers don’t dominate the discussion because if they do, it’s hard to get people to stand up in support of waste-to-energy because they worry about potential repercussions. Instead, he said the discussion should be dominated by experts and those who support the projects.
In the end, solid waste management is everyone’s problem, Bacopoulos said.
“There are only three certainties in life: death, taxes and that people will continue to produce garbage and we need to figure out how to manage it.”