Waste-to-Energy: Does it Work?

We’ve always had a negative connotation about waste as if it’s intrinsically bad and all it ever brings is problems. However, modern technology contradicts that statement. With the adoption of technology in the waste management and recovery setting, we can now generate higher recycling and waste resource recovery rates and see waste as a valuable resource that we can reprocess and recycle over and over again. 

Additionally, waste-to-energy (WtE) systems have also proven to be an advantageous invention. Not only will WtE technology help solve the problems of rubbish generation and lack of available landfill space, but it could also address the challenge of increasing demand for energy.

How Is Waste Transformed into Energy?

As its name implies, waste-to-energy is the thermal or non-thermal process of generating energy in the form of heat and electricity from the treatment and processing of waste. At present, there are various systems and technology that allows us to generate energy from waste, including mass burn or direct combustion, refuse-derived fuel (RDF) systems, pyrolysis, conventional gasification, plasma arc gasification, and landfill gas extraction.

How Does Waste-to-energy Work?

Among the WtE systems, the most widely used is the direct combustion method. This thermal WtE technology takes advantage of solid waste items that are rich in energy and extracts that energy via incineration. 

As the waste burns in the combustion chamber, it releases heat energy which can be used directly for heating. The same heat is also used to generate steam in the boiler. This high-pressure steam propels the blades of the turbine generator to produce electricity.

Is Waste-to-Energy a Renewable Energy Source?

Renewable energy is defined as the energy that comes from sources that have an infinite supply. In contrast with oil, natural gas, and coal that are limited, renewable energy sources are essentially inexhaustible and everlasting. Thus, given the fact that waste generation is inevitable, the short answer to the question “does burning trash generate renewable energy?” is yes. 

Burning Waste as a Renewable Energy Source

Since time immemorial, the world has been generating a whopping tonnes of rubbish annually. Just imagine how much waste we’ve accumulated over the years, and how much energy we can generate from it. It will take hundreds of years before we can even reduce the rubbish we’ve accumulated into half. 

Also, since it’s impossible for us not to generate rubbish, our waste supply for the production of energy is continuously replenished. Our current global waste production stands at 2.01 billion tonnes every year. This number is forecast to grow further to 3.40 billion tonnes by 2050 as the global population continues to burgeon. Thus, it’s less likely that we will run out of energy-rich waste materials we can incinerate and harness to produce electricity.

Can Waste-to-Energy Solve our Problem with Waste?

Despite the fact that waste-to-energy systems are in place, the number of WtE facilities that are operating is not enough to process the billions of tonnes of rubbish we’ve accumulated. There are still a lot of countries who don’t even have a single WtE facility, such as Australia.

The first thermal waste-to-energy facility in Australia is yet to operate. Once operational, this 400,000-tonne thermal treatment plant will only be able to process residential, commercial, and industrial wastes from the city of Perth. Obviously, one WtE facility is not enough to divert the millions of tonnes of rubbish we generate annually. Moreover, this facility won’t be able to provide electricity for the whole of Australia.

Thus, we should not rely much on this WtE technology, especially because it is costly and will take years to build. Instead, we must strengthen our efforts in reducing and managing the waste we generate. One way you can do this is by adopting the zero-waste lifestyle by reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting your rubbish at home.

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