Incineration: Is It the Answer?

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Amodei, Paul
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It seems to be typical that throughout history the abundance of land has always been considered an excessive resource. Unlike other resources such as forests, land is not refurbished. Landfills, which had ten to fifteen year capacities, are being filled in seven years because of overusage and lack of consideration of waste reduction caused by a disposable society. It has become much easier to throw away a razor or a diaper instead of using a straight-edge razor or cloth diapers. One extremely controversial issue is the issue of major cities designating new permits for ·landfills in close proximity to the population. Most political leaders realize the importance of hazardous living conditions near potentially dangerous toxic landfills. Some new types of solutions had to be developed in order to control increasing waste problems. One of the solutions, incineration, has created many controversies. Incineration is the mass burning of waste which is produced by the city's residents. There are two types of burning used: 1) mass burning where everything in the waste stream is burned, and 2) refuse derived fuel (RDF) where noncombustible materials (sinks, tires, appliances) are removed from the waste stream. The remaining combustible material produces heat which is used to generate steam. The steam is sold to electric companies to heat or power buildings. With landfill and transportation costs rising, incinerators keep tipping costs down. Since the steam is sold to heat and power buildings, revenue will be created from the selling of the steam. Economic problems arise from a decrease in the amount of waste sent to landfills. The amount of waste being sent to incinerators decreases through successful recycling, reduction and reusing programs in various communities. With less waste being burned, less steam will be produced. This in turn causes the amount of heat and electricity to decrease, thus possibly violating the amount of steam generated for contractual purposes. Other economic problems include the effects the emissions have on surrounding businesses and people, as well as the number of tourists who visit a polluted city. Health concerns are another controversial issue which arise when considering incineration. Reports have shown increased respiratory problems in children as well as greater risks of cancer to workers. Soil samples have also revealed contamination from emissions which lead to problems of food being grown in this soil or animals which eat these plants. Various incinerators such as the one in Detroit, MI have met the governmentally controlled and regulated emission standards via tests taken several times a year. (See Appendix I) Tests performed on workers concluded that there was no evidence found showing an increase in cancer risks among people associated with the everyday operations of the incinerator. In consideration of environmental problems and health risks, incineration is the end to reusable materials. Once materials are burned, they cannot be reused or recycled again. If recycled materials are utilized, incineration would not be necessary. Materials such as sinks and tires which cannot be reused will end up clogging up landfill space. The Detroit Incinerator has been controversial since its conception in 1984. This incinerator is a state-of-the-art facility which has the newest and best available emissions control devices. This facility is able to handle 4,000 tons of waste per day, converting the waste into refuse-derived fuel which will be sold to Detroit Edison to heat and power buildings downtown. The emissions control devices are the electrostatic precipitators and baghouse filters. Both processes involve obtaining particles out of the flue gases. Electron charges are added to the solid particles floating in the gas stream. The particles are caused to stick together and collected by the filters. A solution to the waste problem will have to combine the best of recycling, reduction, reusing, and incineration. Recycling, reduction, and reusing should be the first priorities when confronted with incineration as a last alternative.
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