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article imageG7 group looks into 'waste-to-energy' plastics incineration

By Karen Graham     Sep 21, 2018 in World
Halifax - With the G7 ministerial meeting on the environment and energy in Halifax, Nova Scotia wrapping up on Friday, the primary focus has been on the topic of the widespread devastation plastic pollution is having on our oceans.
On Thursday, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced the Canadian government's commitment to move towards a zero-plastic waste future - in line with the meeting's theme of "Working Together on Climate Change, Oceans and Clean Energy."
"Our Government is proud to be taking actions that will cut plastic pollution across all its operations and supporting Canadian innovations and initiatives that will keep plastics out of our oceans and in our economy. By protecting the environment and growing the economy, we are ensuring a healthier and more prosperous future for our kids and grandkids," McKenna said.
The announcement was part and parcel of a commitment to move towards the international sustainable management of plastics as set forth in the Ocean Plastics Charter that was signed by five of the G7 members in June. The U.S. and Japan did not sign the charter.
Bank of river full of plastic garbage
Bank of river full of plastic garbage
PJeganathan (CC BY-SA 4.0)
The non-binding charter included two very important commitments -
1. Work with industry toward 100 percent reusable, recyclable or, where viable alternatives do not exist, recoverable plastics by 2030.
2. Work with industry and other levels of government to recycle and reuse at least 55 percent of plastic packaging by 2030 and recover 100 percent of all plastics by 2040.
Waste-to-energy incineration
A big focus of this week's meeting was the burning of plastics to produce energy or heat. And if countries were to embrace "waste-to-energy" incineration, big changes would have to be made because right now, we throw our plastics in the trash, sometimes we recycle, but most of it - from plastic spoons to lawn furniture ends up in landfills.
While the charter does not specifically say burning plastics in an incinerator is also a goal, McKenna responded to CBC Canada on the matter in an email, explaining that "recovery" includes "all activities at the end of life that recover value from plastics waste," including burning it to generate energy or processing it into fuels. This means that dumping plastics in a landfill or burning them in incinerators is not acceptable.
Tractor moves garbages and rubbish on a landfill site on September 1  2015  at Propriano on the Fren...
Tractor moves garbages and rubbish on a landfill site on September 1, 2015, at Propriano on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica
Pascal Pochard Casabianca, AFP/File
"The implications are there would have to be some more waste-to-energy facilities developed," said Virginia MacLaren, an associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto who studies waste management.
Waste-to-energy" incineration is used in a number of European countries. In 2014, 35.8 and 20.7 percent of garbage in Norway and Denmark respectively was incinerated with energy recovery. And Sweden is known to import garbage from other countries to use in incinerators that provide district heating.
According to Statistics Canada, There are seven municipal incineration plants located across Canada, five generate energy, burning approximately 763,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste. Approximately 3 percent of disposed waste was incinerated at these "energy from waste" facilities in 2006.
And in the U.S., according to the EPA, in 2015, 33.57 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) were combusted with energy recovery. Food made up the largest component of MSW combusted at approximately 22 percent.
Recycling rates rose in 21 countries from 2004-2012 and landfill rates declined in 27 of 31 countrie...
Recycling rates rose in 21 countries from 2004-2012 and landfill rates declined in 27 of 31 countries measured in a study
Sebastien Bozon, AFP/File
Rubber, leather and textiles accounted for about 16 percent of MSW combustion. Plastics comprised about 16 percent, and paper and paperboard made up about 13 percent. Other materials accounted for less than 10 percent each.
MacLaren points out that most of Canada's incinerators are decades old, and three recent proposals in Ontario were canceled. A fourth, the Durham York Energy Centre (DYEC), was actually built. The DYEC processes 140,000 tonnes per year of residential garbage that remains after maximizing waste diversion programs – reducing, reusing, recycling and composting – in the Durham and York Regions.
The pros and cons of waste-to-energy
One of the first things opponents of waste-to-energy throw out is the cost. And yes, typically, this method is twice as expensive as just dumping garbage and trash in a landfill. Another complaint is the fear of running out of a reliable stream of garbage to fuel the facilities.
As for the first argument, the cost, in the long run, is our very future, and that is priceless to just about all of us, as MacLaren found out in a study she co-authored in 2016. The study highlights two findings that reflect the public's feelings about waste-to-energy (WtE) solutions:
1. There is more support for the end of stream facilities for discards if they have a WtE component.
2. Support for WtE incineration will be preferred over WtE landfill.
Konrad Fichtner, a Vancouver-based consultant with Morrison Hershfield who advises municipalities and regions around the world on waste-management plans and technologies says waste-to-energy recycling and the resultant energy produced makes a lot of sense.
"Once it's in the ground, it's going to stay there — and that's a waste."
More about G7 nations, Ocean Plastics charter, plastics waste, Environment, wastetoenergy
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