Waste-to-energy (WTE) plants are facilities that burn household and even factory garbages that are not recyclable or hazardous to generate heat or electricity. This process is done by burning the garbages to generate steam enough to turn a series of windmills to create power finally.
It is a great way to dispose of garbage considering the other way that the countries more often do, landfilling. Landfilling is to gather large quantities of waste to bury them underground. While these garbage decay, they become exposed to biological, physical, and chemical transformations and release greenhouse gas that is destructive to the environment. They could also affect the groundwater and soil itself. But by burning the garbage, not only we are less damaging, we also gain land space. While 80 to 90 percent of the trash, in volume, is incinerated, the remaining dust can be sold to the construction industry if they are clean enough. On the downside, burning trash also leaves behind fly ash and bottom ash. Fly ashes are tested if they are hazardous and if they are, it will be buried in a landfill. Bottom ashes, on the other hand, should always be kept in safe facilities for containment.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), WTE plants are the only electric generating technology that reduces Greenhouse Gas emissions as it makes power. WTE plants also cause lesser air pollution than coal plants, but more air pollution than natural gas plants.
Sweden’s waste management system is what all countries should be trying to achieve. According to Avfall Sverige’s report, half of Sweden’s household waste is recycled or processed. The remaining close to half of the household waste is burned in WTE plants. These plants provide heat for 1.2 million Swedish households and electricity to 800,000 thousand more. Considering Sweden’s population is 10 million, that’s a considerably high rate. There are currently 34 WTE plants operating in Sweden. Each plant requires 440 million USD initial investment and 35 million USD a year for maintenance of the facilities.
Sweden also burns trash from other countries, but not only they are not paying to generate electricity and heat from that trash, but they also get paid for it. Reportedly, in 2014, the country received 800 million dollars to dispose of 2.3 million tons of other countries waste. It means Sweden makes money for generating electricity and heat for themselves. Some EU countries have no choice other than to give their non-recyclable trash to Sweden because the EU is starting to ban landfilling practices altogether.
Not only they are managing their wastes this efficiently, Sweden even turned exercising into an environmentalist activity. They are the creators of the term “plogging.” The word is a combination of jogging and Swedish for picking up, “plocka upp.” “Ploggers” go jogging with a pair of gloves and a garbage bag, and while they are running, they are picking up litter such as cigarette buds or plastic along their route. They have proven that it burns more calories since its like doing squats while running. The environmental awareness of Swedes is enviable.