Challenges in Hazardous Medical Waste Management

Medical waste management is a concern of healthcare facilities all over the world; about 10-20% of the facility’s budget every year is spent on waste disposal. According to the WHO, about 85% of the total amount of generated waste is non hazardous but the remaining 15% is considered infectious, toxic or radioactive. While non-hazardous medical waste poses less problems, the risks and challenges of hazardous medical waste management must be considered carefully, since incineration or open burning of hazardous medical waste can result in emissions of dangerous pollutants such as dioxins and furans.

medical-waste-management

For this reason, measures must be taken to ensure safe disposal of hazardous medical waste waste in order to prevent negative impact on the environment or biological hazards, especially in developing countries.

Health Risks

Biologically hazardous waste can be a source of infection due to the harmful microorganisms it contains; the most exposed are hospital patients, hospital staff, health workers. However, the situation is potentially harmful for the general public as well. The risks include chemical burns, air pollution, radiation burns and toxic exposure to harmful pharmaceutical products and substances, such as mercury or dioxins, especially during the process of waste incineration.

Other risks can also derive from the incorrect disposal of needles and syringes; worldwide, it is estimated that, every year, about 16 billion infections are administered. Unfortunately, not all needles are safely eliminated, creating risk of infection but also the possibility of unintentional reuse. Even though this risk has decreased in recent years, unsafe infections are still responsible for many new cases of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Environmental Impacts

Incorrect disposal of untreated healthcare waste can contaminate drinking and ground water in landfill, and also release dangerous chemical substances in the environment. Deficient waste incineration can also release hazardous pollutants in the air, and generate dioxins and furans, substances which have been linked to cancer and other adverse health conditions. Heavy metals, if incinerated, can lead to the diffusion of toxic metals in the environment.

The Way Forward

There is still a long way to go in order to ensure safe disposal of hazardous healthcare waste. A joint WHO/UNICEF assessment conducted in 2015 found that only 58% of analyzed facilities over 24 countries had appropriate medical waste disposal systems in place.

Strategies to improve healthcare waste segregation is an essential step in medical waste management

In the workplace, it is important to raise awareness and promote self-practices. Training in the areas of infection control and clinical waste management is important in order to maintain a clean, safe environment for patients and staff alike. Specialized industrial cleaning can also be effective in reducing risk of infection.

It is also essential to develop safe methods and technologies of treating hazardous medical waste, as opposed to waste incineration, which has already been shown to be ineffective and dangerous. Alternatives to incineration, such as microwaving or autoclaving, greatly reduce the release of hazardous emissions.

Finally, developing global strategies and systems to improve healthcare waste segregation is another essential step; since only about 15% of clinical waste is hazardous, treatment and disposal costs could be reduced significantly with proper segregation practices. Furthermore, these practices also reduce risks of infections for those workers who handle clinical waste.

Incineration of Medical Waste: An Introduction

Incineration is a thermal process that transforms medical wastes into inorganic, incombustible matter thus leading to significant reduction in waste volume and weight. The main purpose of any medical waste incinerator is to eliminate pathogens from waste and reduce the waste to ashes. However, certain types of medical wastes, such as pharmaceutical or chemical wastes, require higher temperatures for complete destruction.

Medical waste incinerators typically operate at high temperatures between 900 and 1200°C. Developing countries of Asia and Africa usually use low-cost, high-temperature incinerators of simple design for stabilization of healthcare wastes. The most reliable and predominant medical waste incineration technology is pyrolytic incineration, also known as controlled air incineration or double-chamber incineration. The pyrolytic incinerator comprises a pyrolytic chamber and a post-combustion chamber.

Medical waste is thermally decomposed in the pyrolytic chamber through an oxygen-deficient, medium-temperature combustion process (800– 900°C), producing solid ashes and gases. The gases produced in the pyrolytic chamber are burned at high temperature (900– 1200°C) by a fuel burner in the post-combustion chamber, using an excess of air to minimize smoke and odours.

Small-scale decentralized incinerators used in hospitals, of capacity 200–1000kg/day, are operated on demand in developing countries, such as India. On the other hand, off-site regional facilities have large-scale incinerators of capacity 1–8 tonnes/day, operating continuously and equipped with automatic loading and de-ashing devices. In recent years, mobile incinerators are getting attraction in developing world as such units permit on-site waste treatment in hospitals and clinics, thus avoiding the need to transport infectious waste across the city.

However, the WHO policy paper of 2004 and the Stockholm Convention, has stressed the need to consider the risks associated with the incineration of healthcare waste in the form of particulate matter, heavy metals, acid gases, carbon monoxide, organic compounds, pathogens etc. In addition, leachable organic compounds, like dioxins and heavy metals, are usually present in bottom ash residues. Due to these factors, many industrialized countries are phasing out healthcare waste incinerators and exploring technologies that do not produce any dioxins. Countries like United States, Ireland, Portugal, Canada and Germany have completely shut down or put a moratorium on medical waste incinerators.

Waste Management Progress in Nigeria’s Delta State

waste-nigeriaWaste management is a serious problem in Nigeria, and Delta State is no exception. It is a problem that starts at a cultural level: many of the populace believe that once they remove waste from their homes it is no longer their concern. It is a problem that starts at a cultural level: many of the populace believe that once they remove waste from their homes it is no longer their concern, and you often see people disposing of their household waste in the streets at night. Once the waste gets out into the streets, it’s perceived as the duty of the government to handle it.

However, I have never yet heard of any Nigerian politician making waste management a feature of his or her manifesto during the election campaign process. Having said that, a few of Nigeria’s political leaders deserve to be commended for coming to terms with the fact that waste has to be managed properly, even if such issues were far from their minds when they entered political office.

Legislation and Framework

Nigeria does have a waste legislation framework in place. Its focus has been on the most toxic and hazardous waste: partly in response to some major pollution incidents in the 1980s, the government took powers in relation to Hazardous Waste in 1988. In the same year, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency was established – and was subsequently strengthened by the addition of an inspectorate and enforcement department arm in 1991, with divisions for standard regulation, chemical tracking and compliance monitoring. These laws have since given rise to regulations and guidelines pertaining to environmental and waste management issues.

Under our laws, waste management in each state is the duty of the local governments that fall within it, but few are taking an active approach to implementing and enforcing the sensible measures that the regulations require. A small number of states have taken over this task from local government, and Delta State’s decision to do this has led to significant new investment in waste management.

One of the fruits of that investment is the Delta State Integrated Waste Management Facility at Asaba for treating both household and clinical waste generated locally. It was developed when the Delta State government decided to put an end to the non-sustainable dumping of waste in Asaba, the state capital.

Integrated Waste Management Facility at Asaba

It is described as an integrated waste management facility because it includes a composting department, a recycling department and a (non-WTE) incineration department. Trucks carrying waste are weighed in as they come into the facility. From the weigh bridge, they move to the relevant reception bay – there are separate ones for household and clinical wastes – to tip their load, and are then weighed again on the way out.

Medical waste is taken directly for incineration, but household wastes are sent along conveyors for sorting. Recyclables and compostable materials are, so far as possible, separated both from other waste and from one another. Each recyclable stream ends up in a chamber where it can be prepared for sale. The compostable materials are moved to the composting section, which uses aerated static pile composting.

The remaining waste is conveyed into the three incinerators – moving grate, rotary kiln and fixed end– for combustion. The resulting ash is recycled by mixing it with cement and sharp sand and moulding it into interlocking tiles. The stacks of the three incinerators are fitted with smoke cleaning systems to reduce emissions. The process produces wastewater, which is channelled to a pit where it is treated and reused. Overall, 30% of the waste is composted, 15% recycled and 55% incinerated.

There are many examples of sophisticated waste infrastructure being built in developing countries, but failing because the necessary collection systems were not in place to support them. To ensure that this problem is avoided at Asaba, the Delta State government is working with a group known as the Private Sector Participants (PSP).

Each member of this group has trucks assigned to them and has been directed to collect household waste from different parts of the city, for delivery to the facility for treatment. The arrangements made by each PSP are different: some collect from outside individual properties, and some from communal sites; most collect waste that is found in the streets; and while each is subsidised by the state, households also have to pay towards the cost.

Before the Asaba facility was developed, most of the wastes generated in Asaba were disposed of at a dumpsite just adjacent to the Delta State Airport. This created a pungent odour, as well as visual disamenity for people nearby. A great deal of remediation work is now taking place at the dumpsite, which is vastly improving the local environmental quality.

War on Waste

Of course, although this is an improvement there remains more to do. First on the list is education. People do not know how sustainable waste management can impact positively in their lives, reducing their exposure to toxins as well as improving their surroundings. Nor do they understand that recycling a beverage can or a plastic bottle will cost less than producing one from virgin materials and will have a lesser environmental impact. There remains a good deal of cultural change and environmental education that is needed before people will stop throwing waste and litter on the streets – but there are few countries where, to some extent, the same would not be true.

Next is the lack of infrastructure. Nigeria has 36 states and a federal capital, yet the facility in Asaba is the first publicly commissioned one of its kind in the country; there are also some privately owned incinerators that a few companies in Port Harcourt use to treat wastes from vessels (ships), hospitals and industries. Lagos state and Abuja are relatively advanced, simply by virtue of having put in place a few managed landfills, but they are still far from having the level of facility that Asaba can now boast.

The backbone of Asaba’s progress is the state government’s commitment to put a proper waste management solution in place. We’ve seen the impact in the form of infrastructure, collections and remediation, and law enforcement work is starting to change people’s perception about waste management in Delta State. At the moment, plans are being concluded to setup another facility in Warri, Delta State’s industrial hub, which will be twice the size of the Asaba facility.?

My hope is that the progress made by Delta State will be a beacon for other states’ governments. The example we are providing of cleaner, hygienic, more environmentally responsible waste management, and the positive changes that is bringing about, should inspire new development elsewhere in the country, which could equal or even exceed Delta State’s results. So whilst Nigeria’s track record on waste may leave a lot to be desired, the path ahead could be a great deal more promising.

Note: The article is being republished with the kind permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be found at this link.

Comparison of MSW-to-Energy Processes

MSW-to-Energy is the use of thermochemical and biochemical technologies to recover energy, usually in the form of electricity, steam and other fuels, from urban wastes. The main categories of MSW-to-energy technologies are physical technologies, which process waste to make it more useful as fuel; thermal technologies, which can yield heat, fuel oil, or syngas from both organic and inorganic wastes; and biological technologies, in which bacterial fermentation is used to digest organic wastes to yield fuel. These new technologies can reduce the volume of the original waste by 90%, depending upon composition and use of outputs.

Components of MSW-to-Energy Systems

  1. Front-end MSW preprocessing
  2. Conversion unit (reactor or anaerobic digester)
  3. Gas cleanup and residue treatment plant
  4. Energy recovery plant (optional)
  5. Emissions clean up

Incineration

  • Combustion of raw MSW, moisture less than 50%
  • Sufficient amount of oxygen is required to fully oxidize the fuel
  • Combustion temperatures are in excess of 850oC
  • Waste is converted into CO2 and water concern about toxics (dioxin, furans)
  • Any non-combustible materials (inorganic such as metals, glass) remain as a solid, known as bottom ash (used as feedstock in cement and brick manufacturing)
  • Air pollution control system for fly ash, bottom ash, particulates etc.
  • Needs high calorific value waste to keep combustion process going, otherwise requires high energy for maintaining high temperatures

Anaerobic Digestion

  • Well-known biochemical technology for organic fraction of MSW and sewage sludge.
  • Biological conversion of biodegradable organic materials in the absence of oxygen at mesophilic or thermophilic temperatures.
  • Residue is stabilized organic matter that can be used as soil amendment
  • Digestion is used primarily to reduce quantity of sludge for disposal / reuse
  • Methane gas is generated which is used for heat and power generation.

Gasification

  • Can be seen as between pyrolysis and combustion (incineration) as it involves partial oxidation.
  • Exothermic process (some heat is required to initialize and sustain the gasification process).
  • Oxygen is added but at low amounts not sufficient for full oxidation and full combustion.
  • Temperatures are above 650oC
  • Main product is syngas, typically has net calorific value of 4 to 10 MJ/Nm3
  • Other product is solid residue of non-combustible materials (ash) which contains low level of carbon

Pyrolysis

  • Thermal degradation of organic materials through use of indirect, external source of heat
  • Temperatures between 300 to 850oC are maintained for several seconds in the absence of oxygen.
  • Product is char, oil and syngas composed primarily of O2, CO, CO2, CH4 and complex hydrocarbons.
  • Syngas can be utilized for energy production or proportions can be condensed to produce oils and waxes
  • Syngas typically has net calorific value (NCV) of 10 to 20 MJ/Nm

Plasma Gasification

  • Use of electricity passed through graphite or carbon electrodes, with steam and/or oxygen / air injection to produce electrically conducting gas (plasma)
  • Temperatures are above 3000oC
  • Organic materials are converted to syngas composed of H2, CO
  • Inorganic materials are converted to solid slag
  • Syngas can be utilized for energy production or proportions can be condensed to produce oils and waxes

MSW-to-energy technologies can address a host of environmental issues, such as land use and pollution from landfills, and increasing reliance on fossil fuels. In many countries, the availability of landfill capacity has been steadily decreasing due to regulatory, planning and environmental permitting constraints. As a result, new approaches to waste management are rapidly being written into public and institutional policies at local, regional and national levels.

Guide to Effective Waste Management

The best way of dealing with waste, both economically and environmentally, is to avoid creating it in the first place. For effective waste management, waste minimization, reuse, recycle and energy recovery are more sustainable than conventional landfill or dumpsite disposal technique.

Olusosun is the largest dumpsite in Nigeria

Waste Minimization

Waste minimization is the process of reducing the amount of waste produced by a person or a society. Waste minimization is about the way in which the products and services we all rely on are designed, made, bought and sold, used, consumed and disposed of.

Waste Reuse

Reuse means using an item more than once. This includes conventional reuse where the item is used again for the same function and new-life reuse where it is used for a new function. For example, concrete is a type of construction waste which can be recycled and used as a base for roads; inert material may be used as a layer that covers the dumped waste on landfill at the end of the day.

Waste Recycling

Recycling of waste involves reprocessing the particular waste materials, including e-waste, so that it can be used as raw materials in another process. This is also known as material recovery. A well-known process for recycling waste is composting, where biodegradable wastes are biologically decomposed leading to the formation of nutrient-rich compost.

Waste-to-Energy

As far as waste-to-energy is concerned, major processes involved are mass-burn incineration, RDF incineration, anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis. Gasification and pyrolysis involves super-heating of municipal solid waste in an oxygen-controlled environment to avoid combustion. The primary differences among them relate to heat source, oxygen level, and temperature, from as low as about 300°C for pyrolysis to as high as 11 000°C for plasma gasification. The residual gases like carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane etc are released after a sophisticated gas cleaning mechanism.

MSW incineration produce significant amounts of a waste called bottom ash, of which about 40% must be landfilled. The remaining 60% can be further treated to separate metals, which are sold, from inert materials, which are often used as road base.

The above mentioned techniques are trending in many countries and region. As of 2014, Tokyo (Japan) has nineteen advanced and sophisticated waste incinerator plants making it one of the cleanest cities. From the legislature standpoint, the country has implemented strict emission parameters in incinerator plants and waste transportation.

The European Union also has a similar legislature framework as they too faced similar challenges with regards to waste management. Some of these policies include – maximizing recycling and re-use, reducing landfill, ensuring the guidelines are followed by the member states.

Singapore has also turned to converting household waste into clean fuel, which both reduced the volume going into landfills and produced electricity. Now its four waste-to-energy plants account for almost 3% of the country’s electricity needs, and recycling rates are at an all-time high of 60%. By comparison, the U.S. sent 53% of its solid waste to landfills in 2013, recycled only 34% of waste and converted 13% into electricity, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Trends in Waste Collection

Since the municipal solid waste can be a mixture of all possible wastes and not just ones belonging to the same category and recommended process, recent advances in physical processes, sensors, and actuators used as well as control and autonomy related issues in the area of automated sorting and recycling of source-separated municipal solid waste.

Automated vacuum waste collection systems that are located underground are also actively used in various parts of the world like Abu Dhabi, Barcelona, Leon, Mecca and New York etc. The utilization of the subsurface space can provide the setting for the development of infrastructure which is capable of addressing in a more efficient manner the limitations of existing waste management schemes.

AI-based waste management systems can help in route optimization and waste disposal

This technique also minimizes operational costs, noise and provides more flexibility. There are various new innovations like IoT-enabled garbage cans, electric garbage trucks, waste sorting robots, eco dumpster and mechanisms etc are also being developed and deployed at various sites.

Conclusion

Waste management is a huge and ever growing industry that has to be analyzed and updated at every point based on the new emergence of threats and technology. With government educating the normal people and creating awareness among different sector of the society, setting sufficient budgets and assisting companies and facilities for planning, research and waste management processes can help to relax the issues to an extent if not eradicating it completely. These actions not only help in protecting environment, but also help in employment generation and boosting up the economy.

Medical Waste Management in Developing Countries

Healthcare sector is growing at a very rapid pace, which in turn has led to tremendous increase in the quantity of medical waste generation in developing countries, especially by hospitals, clinics and other healthcare establishments. The quantity of healthcare waste produced in a typical developing country depends on a wide range of factors and may range from 0.5 to 2.5 kg per bed per day.

medical-waste-management

For example, India generates as much as 500 tons of biomedical wastes every day while Saudi Arabia produces more than 80 tons of healthcare waste daily. The growing amount of medical wastes is posing significant public health and environmental challenges across the world. The situation is worsened by improper disposal methods, insufficient physical resources, and lack of research on medical waste management. The urgent need of the hour is to healthcare sustainable in the real sense of the word.

Hazards of Healthcare Wastes

The greatest risk to public health and environment is posed by infectious waste (or hazardous medical waste) which constitutes around 15 – 25 percent of total healthcare waste. Infectious wastes may include items that are contaminated with body fluids such as blood and blood products, used catheters and gloves, cultures and stocks of infectious agents, wound dressings, nappies, discarded diagnostic samples, swabs, bandages, disposal medical devices, contaminated laboratory animals etc.

Improper management of healthcare wastes from hospitals, clinics and other facilities in developing nations pose occupational and public health risks to patients, health workers, waste handlers, haulers and general public. It may also lead to contamination of air, water and soil which may affect all forms of life. In addition, if waste is not disposed of properly, ragpickers may collect disposable medical equipment (particularly syringes) and to resell these materials which may cause dangerous diseases.

Inadequate healthcare waste management can cause environmental pollution, growth and multiplication of vectors like insects, rodents and worms and may lead to the transmission of dangerous diseases like typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and AIDS through injuries from syringes and needles contaminated with human.

In addition to public health risks associated with poor management of biomedical waste, healthcare wastes can have deleterious impacts on water bodies, air, soil as well as biodiversity. The situation is further complicated by harsh climatic conditions in many developing nations which makes disposal of medical waste more challenging.

The predominant medical waste management method in the developing world is either small-scale incineration or landfilling. However, the WHO policy paper of 2004 and the Stockholm Convention, has stressed the need to consider the risks associated with the incineration of healthcare waste in the form of particulate matter, heavy metals, acid gases, carbon monoxide, organic compounds, pathogens etc.

In addition, leachable organic compounds, like dioxins and heavy metals, are usually present in bottom ash residues. Due to these factors, many industrialized countries are phasing out healthcare incinerators and exploring technologies that do not produce any dioxins. Countries like United States, Ireland, Portugal, Canada and Germany have completely shut down or put a moratorium on medical waste incinerators.

Alternative Treatment Technologies

The alternative technologies for healthcare waste disposal are steam sterilization, advanced steam sterilization, microwave treatment, dry heat sterilization, alkaline hydrolysis, biological treatment and plasma gasification.

Nowadays, steam sterilization (or autoclaving) is the most common alternative treatment method. Steam sterilization is done in closed chambers where both heat and pressure are applied over a period of time to destroy all microorganisms that may be present in healthcare waste before landfill disposal. Among alternative systems, autoclaving has the lowest capital costs and can be used to process up to 90% of medical waste, and are easily scaled to meet the needs of any medical organization.

Advanced autoclaves or advanced steam treatment technologies combine steam treatment with vacuuming, internal mixing or fragmentation, internal shredding, drying, and compaction thus leading to as much as 90% volume reduction. Advanced steam systems have higher capital costs than standard autoclaves of the same size. However, rigorous waste segregation is important in steam sterilization in order to exclude hazardous materials and chemicals from the waste stream.

Microwave treatment is a promising technology in which treatment occurs through the introduction of moist heat and steam generated by microwave energy. A typical microwave treatment system consists of a treatment chamber into which microwave energy is directed from a microwave generator. Microwave units generally have higher capital costs than autoclaves, and can be batch or semi-continuous.

Chemical processes use disinfectants, such as lime or peracetic acid, to treat waste. Alkaline digestion is a unique type of chemical process that uses heated alkali to digest tissues, pathological waste, anatomical parts, or animal carcasses in heated stainless steel tanks. Biological processes, like composting and vermicomposting, can also be used to degrade organic matter in healthcare waste such as kitchen waste and placenta.

Plasma gasification is an emerging solution for sustainable management of healthcare waste. A plasma gasifier is an oxygen-starved reactor that is operated at the very high temperatures which results in the breakdown of wastes into hydrogen, carbon monoxide, water etc. The main product of a plasma gasification plant is energy-rich syngas which can be converted into heat, electricity and liquids fuels. Inorganic components in medical wastes, like metals and glass, get converted into a glassy aggregate.

Progress of Waste-to-Energy in the USA

Rising rates of consumption necessitate an improved approach to resource management. Around the world, from Europe to Asia, governments have adapted their practices and policies to reflect renewability. They’ve invested in facilities that repurpose waste as source of energy, affording them a reliable and cheap source of energy.

This seems like progress, given the impracticality of older methods. Traditional sources of energy like fossil fuels are no longer a realistic option moving forward, not only for their finite nature but also within the context of the planet’s continued health. That said, the waste-to-energy sector is subject to scrutiny.

We’ll detail the reasons for this scrutiny, the waste-to-energy sector’s current status within the United States and speculations for the future. Through a concise analysis of obstacles and opportunities, we’ll provide a holistic perspective of the waste-to-energy progress, with a summation of its positive and negative attributes.

Status of Waste-to-Energy Sector

The U.S. currently employs 86 municipal waste-to-energy facilities across 25 states for the purpose of energy recovery. While several have expanded to manage additional waste, the last new facility opened in 1995. To understand this apparent lack of progress in the area of thermochemical treatment of MSW, budget represents a serious barrier.

One of the primary reasons behind the shortage of waste-to-energy facilities in the USA is their cost. The cost of construction on a new plant often exceeds $100 million, and larger plants require double or triple that figure to build. In addition to that, the economic benefits of the investment aren’t immediately noticeable.

The Palm Beach County Renewable Energy Facility is a RDF-based waste-to-energy (WTE) facility.

The U.S. also has a surplus of available land. Where smaller countries like Japan have limited space to work within, the U.S. can choose to pursue more financially viable options such as landfills. The expenses associated with a landfill are far less significant than those associated with a waste-to-energy facility.

Presently, the U.S. processes 14 percent of its trash in waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, which is still a substantial amount of refuse given today’s rate of consumption. On a larger scale, North America ranks third in the world in the waste-to-energy movement, behind the European nations and the Asia Pacific region.

Future of WTE Sector

Certain factors influence the framework of an energy policy. Government officials have to consider the projected increase in energy demand, concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, space-constrained or preferred land use, fuel availability and potential disruptions to the supply chain.

A waste-to-energy facility accounts for several of these factors, such as space constraints and fuel availability, but pollution remains an issue. Many argue that the incineration of trash isn’t an effective means of reducing waste or protecting the environment, and they have evidence to support this.

The waste-to-energy sector extends beyond MSW facilities, however. It also encompasses biofuel, which has seen an increase in popularity. The aviation industry has shown a growing dedication to biofuel, with United Airlines investing $30 million in the largest producer of aviation biofuel.

If the interest of United Airlines and other companies is any indication, the waste-to-energy sector will continue to expand. Though negative press and the high cost of waste-to-energy facilities may impede its progress, advances in technology promise to improve efficiency and reduce expenses.

Positives and Negatives

The waste-to-energy sector provides many benefits, allowing communities a method of repurposing their waste. It has negative aspects that are also important to note, like the potential for pollution. While the sector offers solutions, some of them come at a cost.

It’s true that resource management is essential, and adapting practices to meet high standards of renewability is critical to the planet’s health. However, it’s also necessary to recognize risk, and the waste-to-energy sector is not without its flaws. How those flaws will affect the sector moving forward is critical to consider.

5 Interesting Facts About Waste-to-Energy Projects

Waste-to-energy (also known as energy-from-waste) is a complicated technology in the realm of renewable energy. There are a lot of hidden truths and myths about this technology that people need to be aware of. Renewable energy technologies, like solar and wind, have much more simple processes and gain most of the attention from media outlets.

On the converse, renewable energy sources that are highly complex like nuclear energy have a bunch of media attention as well.

So, why don’t we discuss a bit more about this relatively unknown technology and asset class? Here I’ll discuss a number of the most important facts about waste-to-energy (abbreviated as WTE).

Interesting Facts About Waste-to-Energy

Let’s get into our facts about waste-to-energy that you need to know.

  1. Waste-to-Energy Can Provide Baseload Power

The most familiar renewable energy resources such as wind and solar can only provide power if the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. WTE projects can actually provide baseload power that is used to serve consumers and the grid no matter the time of day or if the sun is shining or not.

Baseload power is essentially when intermittent resources like solar and wind become more prevalent.

  1. Not All WTE Projects are Clean and Green

While waste-to-energy projects would seem to be green and clean because they turn trash into power or gas. However, some projects require long hauling of trash to bring to the actual incineration facility. This actually ends up require much more emissions from the trash haulers than alternatives.

One solution to this would be to help promote the use of electric vehicles and electric vehicle technology to be installed in trucking, like waste hauling.

  1. WTE Projects Are Crucial to Help Reduce Landfills

Landfills have increased at an exponential pace the in last 100 years. Waste-to-energy projects are an awesome alternative to landfills as the trash is used to provide electricity or fuel.

WTE projects reduce waste volumes by approximately 90%, which results in fewer landfills that are needed to process ash. This ends up protecting our natural resources and land in a dramatic fashion.

  1. Most WTE Projects have Multiple Revenue Streams

Waste-to-energy projects are extremely complicated and expensive to build. Most of the investor economic interest is driven by financial incentives, renewable identification numbers, tax credits, etc. to help these projects get financed.

Beyond these other financial incentives, some of the waste-to-energy projects produce a byproduct, named biochar, which has multiple applications and fetches good prices. The biochar can usually end up providing the most value in the revenue stream or investability of the project itself.

In addition to other economic streams, waste-to-energy projects usually require high tipping fees. A tipping fee is what the trash hauler has to pay in order to dump the trash at the facility. With WTE projects, the tipping fee can end up being 50-60% of the overall revenue stack.

  1. WTE Facilities are Net Greenhouse Gas Reducers

Methane has more than 20 times the potency of carbon dioxide and is ranked as a very dangerous contributor to climate change and warming of our planet. WTE facilities avoid the productions of methane and end up producing up to 10 times more the electricity than landfill gas projects. If you didn’t know, landfills can actually end up producing electricity by capture the methane gas and compressing it into a consumable natural gas for power.

Sysav–WTE-plant-Sweden

Sweden is one of the best proponents of waste-to-energy in the world

WTE projects will usually have much more capacity than any landfill gas projects.

Conclusions

You can’t use waste-to-energy projects at your home similar to solar or even wind to get free electricity. However, knowing about projects in your area and the relevant suppliers will help you understand whether or not the technology is a perfect fit for your community. If you see a project coming online in your surrounding area, you should know how to ask the right questions.

At the end of the day, WTE projects are green and clean. They just need to have the right systems in place to make them more efficient and less risky to appeal new investor appetite. What fact was your favorite about waste-to-energy?

Do you know much about waste-to-energy projects? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

WTE Prospects in the Middle East

A combination of high fuel prices and a search for alternative technologies, combined with massive waste generation has led to countries in the Middle East region to consider Waste to Energy (or WtE) as a sustainable waste management strategy and cost-effective fuel source for the future. We look at the current state of the WtE market in the region.

wastetoenergy-plant-qatar

It is estimated that each person in the United Arab Emirates produces 2 kg of municipal solid waste per day – that puts the total waste production figure somewhere in the region of 150 million tonnes every year. Given that the population currently stands at over 9.4 million (2013) and is projected to see an annual average growth figure of 2.3% over the next six years, over three times the global average, it’s clear that this is a lot of waste to be disposed of. In addition, the GCC nations in general rank in the bottom 10% of the sustainable nations in the world and are also amongst the top per capita carbon-releasers.

When we also consider that UAE are actively pursuing alternative energy technologies to supplement rapidly-decreasing and increasingly-costly traditional fossil fuels, mitigate the harmful effects of landfill, and reduce an ever-increasing carbon footprint, it becomes apparent that high on their list of proposed solutions is Waste to Energy (WtE). It could be an ideal solution to the problem.

What is WtE

Waste-to-Energy works on the simple principle of taking waste and turning it into a form of energy. This can be electricity, heat or transport fuels, and can be achieved in a variety of ways – the most common of which is incineration. MSW is taken to a WtE plant, incinerated at high temperatures and the resultant heat is used to boil water which creates steam to turn turbines, in the same way that burning gas or coal produces power. Gasification and anaerobic digestion are two further WtE methods which are also used.

However, WtE has several advantages over burning fossil fuels. Primarily amongst them are the potential to minimise landfill sites which have caused serious concern for many years. They are not only unsightly, but can also be contaminated, biologically or chemically. Toxic waste can leach into the ground beneath them and enter the water table.

Landfill sites also continuously emit carbon dioxide and methane, both harmful greenhouse gases – in addition methane is potentially explosive. Sending MSW to landfill also discourages recycling and necessitates more demand for raw materials. Finally, landfill sites are unpleasant places which attract vermin and flies and give off offensive odours.

WtE has been used successfully in many countries around the world for a long time now. Europe is the most enthusiastic proponent of WtE, with around 450 facilities; the Asia-Pacific region has just over 300; the USA has almost 100. In the rest of the world there are less than 30 facilities but this number is growing. Globally, it is estimated that the WtE industry is growing at approximately US $2 billion per annum and will be valued at around US $80 billion by the year 2022.

The USA ranks third in the world for the percentage of waste which is incinerated for energy production. Around 16% of the rubbish that America produces every day is burned in its WtE plants. Advocates claims the advantages are clear: reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the environment (estimates say that burning one ton of waste in a WtE plant saves between one half and one ton of greenhouse gases compared to landfill emissions, or the burning of conventional fuels), freeing up land which would normally be used for landfill (and, therefore, extending the life of existing landfill sites), encouraging recycling (some facilities have managed to reduce the amount of waste they process by up to 90% and the recycling of ferrous and non-ferrous metals provides an additional income source), and, perhaps most importantly, producing a revenue stream from the sale of the electricity generated.

In one small county alone, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with a population of just over half-a-million people, more than 4.4 billion kWh of electricity has been produced through WtE in the last 20 years. This has generated over USD $256 million through its sale to local residents.

Waste-to-Energy in the Middle East

Given WtE’s potential to not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution on a local scale, but also to produce much-needed electricity in the region, what is the current state of affairs in the Middle East. There are several WtE initiatives already underway in the region. Qatar was the first GCC country to implement a waste-to-energy programme and currently generates over 30MW of electricity from its Domestic Solid Waste Management Center (DSWMC) located at Messeid (Doha). Saudi Arabia and the UAE have both stated that they have WtE production capacity targets of 100MW. Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman are also seriously considering waste-to-energy as a means to tackle the worsening waste management problem.

Abu Dhabi’s government is currently spending around US $850 million to build a 100 MW plant which is expected to be operational by 2017 and which will supply around 20,000 households with electricity. In Sharjah, the world’s largest household waste gasification plant, costing in excess of US $480 million, is due to be open in 2015.

However, not all the GCC members are as enthusiastic about WtE. Dubai’s government has recently scrapped plans for a US $2 billion project which would have made use of the 7,800 tonnes of domestic waste which is produced in Dubai every single day.

We asked Salman Zafar, Founder of Doha-based EcoMENA, a popular sustainability advocacy, why given the sheer scale of the waste in the Gulf region, the production of this form of energy is still in its infancy. “The main deterrent in the implementation of WtE projects in the Middle East is the current availability of cheap sources of energy already available, especially in the GCC,” he commented.

Salman Zafar further says, “WtE projects demand a good deal of investment, heavy government subsidies, tipping fees, power purchase agreements etc, which are hard to obtain for such projects in the region.” “The absence of a sustainable waste management strategy in Middle East nations is also a vital factor behind the very slow pace of growth of the WtE sector in the region. Regional governments, municipalities and local SWM companies find it easier and cost-effective to dump untreated municipal waste in landfills,” he added.

So, how can WtE contribute towards the region’s growing power demand in the future?

“Modern WtE technologies, such as RDF-based incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, anaerobic digestion etc, all have the ability to transform power demand as well as the waste management scenario in the region,” he continued. “A typical 250 – 300 tons per day WtE plant can produce around 3 – 4 MW of electricity and a network of such plants in cities across the region can make a real difference in the energy sector as well as augmenting energy reserves in the Middle East. In fact, WtE plants also produce a tremendous about of heat energy which can be utilised in process industries, further maximising their usefulness,” Salman Zafar concluded.

New technologies naturally take time to become established as their efficiency versus cost ratios are analysed. However, it is becoming increasingly clearer that waste-to-energy is a viable and efficient method for solid waste management and generation of alternative energy in the Middle East.

Obstacles in Implementation of Waste-to-Energy

The biggest obstacle to the implementation of Waste-to-Energy (or WTE) lies not in the technology itself but in the acceptance of citizens. Citizens who are environmentally minded but lack awareness of the current status of waste-to-energy bring up concerns of environmental justice and organize around this. They view WTE as ‘dumping’ of pollutants on lower strata of society and their emotional critique rooted in the hope for environmental justice tends to move democracy.

An advocate of public understanding of science, Shawn Lawrence Otto regrets that the facts are not able to hold the same sway. Some US liberal groups such as the Center for American Progress are beginning to realize that the times and science have changed. It will take more consensus on the science and the go ahead from environmental groups before the conversation moves forward, seemingly improbable but not without precedent.

Spittelau Waste-to-Energy Plant

The Spittelau waste-to-energy plant is an example of opposition coming together in consensus over WTE. It was built in Vienna in 1971 with the purpose of addressing district heating and waste management issues. Much later awareness of the risks of dioxins emitted by such plants grew and the people’s faith in the technology was called into question. It also became a political issue whereby opposition parties challenged the mayor on the suitability of the plant. The economic interests of landfill owners also lay in the shutting down of the WTE facility. The alternative was to retrofit the same plant with advanced technology that would remove the dioxins through Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR).

Through public discussions it appeared that the majority of the people were against the plant altogether though thorough studies by informed researchers showed that the science backs WTE. The mayor, Helmut Zilk eventually consulted Green Party members on how to make this technology better perceived in the eyes of the people, and asked the famous Austrian artist Freidensreich Hundertwasser, who was a green party member to design the look of the plant. Freidensreich Hundertwasser after carefully studying the subject wrote a letter of support, stating his belief as to why WTE was needed and accepted Mayor Helmut Zilk’s request. Later public opinion polls showed that there were a majority of people who were either in favor of or not opinionated about the plant, with only 3% in outright opposition of the plant.

Polarized Discussion

Waste-to-Energy or recycling has kept public discourse from questioning whether there may not be intermediate or case specific solutions. This polarization serves to move the conversation nowhere. For now it can be agreed that landfills are devastating in their contribution to Climate Change and must be done away with. The choice then, of treatment processes for municipal solid waste are plentiful. If after recovery of recyclable materials there remains a sizeable waste stream the option of waste-to-energy can be explored.

Primary Considerations

  • Environmental implications (i.e. CO2 emissions vis-à-vis the next best fuel source) given the composition of the local waste stream. If the waste stream consists of a high percentage of recyclables the more sustainable waste strategy would be to ramp up recycling efforts rather than to adopt WTE,
  • Likely composition and variation of the waste stream and the feasibility of the technology to handle such a waste stream,
  • Financial considerations with regards to the revenue stream from the WTE facility and its long term viability,
  • Efforts at making citizens aware of the high standards achieved by this technology in order to secure their approval.

Note: This excerpt is being published with the permission of our collaborative partner Be Waste Wise. The original excerpt and its video recording can be found at this link