Sunday, June 30, 2019
Mike Butler: Burning trash the cleanest option
Auckland man Chris Newman, who built New Zealand’s first waste tyre processing plant, was living in Japan when he noticed that household waste there was incinerated.
Returning home, Newman submitted a proposal for a waste incinerator that also generates electricity to Cr Penny Hulse at the Auckland Council, only to have it ruled out by council staff.
He then made a presentation to the office of Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage and found an impenetrable government ethos of “compost and recycle”.
Meanwhile, a furore erupted as Waste Management proposed a new landfill at Dome Valley, a beauty spot 70km north of Auckland.
The problem with landfills is that despite the best-laid dump liners, the decomposing waste leaks toxic substances and generates the greenhouse gas methane.
Waste incineration removes both the need for leachate leaking landfills and the constant pressure to recycle because everything except concrete may be burned.
Emissions from these waste-to-energy plants produce particles of one micrometer in diameter, which is one tenth of the clean-air standard of 10 micrometers now required for household woodburners.
Rubbish disposal becomes very simple. All household rubbish goes into the bin, a truck takes it away, and tips it into an incinerator, and it is all gone.
A bonus is that the heat of the 1000C furnace of each 300,000-tonne-per-year consuming plant generates sufficient energy for 35,000 homes
Hitachi Zosen Innova is a waste-to-energy company with a long operating history. It has numerous plants operating in Japan, Europe, the Americas, Asia, and now Australia.
This is probably due to its business model that requires no cash investment by the council setting up an incinerator, although it does require a 20-year contract.
The key steps in the energy-from-waste process are as follows:
• Waste is transported to the plant via truck (and possibly train),
• Recyclables are removed and the residual waste is combusted in a boiler (or boilers),
• The boiler(s) produce heat generated by the combustion of waste which produces steam,
• Steam is used in generators to produce electricity to feed into the nearby city’s power grid,
• Gases from the combustion chamber are treated to high cleaning specifications, through chemical treatment and filter bags,
• Cleaned combustion gas is discharged through the stack, while being continuously monitored,
• Ash residues from the boiler and filter bags are collected and disposed to approved landfill or used commercially for road foundations.
A plant to recover energy from 300,000 tonnes of waste per year would cost $400 million over 20 years. Auckland’s 2018 waste volume was some 1.5 + million tonnes.
The deal offered by Hitachi Zosen Innova, which requires no cash outlay for the plant although it does require a 20-year contract, derives income from electricity sales and disposal fees that are approximately the same as those currently levied for landfills.
Opposition to waste incinerators, according to random posts on the internet, comes from environmental justice warriors “concerned about possible impacts on low-income people and communities of colour”.
Such opponents should be aware that such incinerators have been operating in inner-city Tokyo, and Paris for decades without issues.
Other opposition has come from Green politicians wedded to the concept of composting and recycling.
Then there is the China factor. The waste industry in New Zealand is controlled by two mainland China companies whose business models are based on landfills.
They are Waste Management, owned by Beijing Capital since 2014, and Enviro (NZ), which operates as EnviroWaste. Enviro (NZ) is owned by billionaire Li Ka-shing's Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings.
Both companies operate with the permission and under the direct influence of the Chinese government. Any foreign power’s control of waste management in New Zealand could operate as a leash that can be pulled to show who is boss should economic imperialism come into play.
Last year when China abruptly said to the world “no more recyclable plastic imports” was arguably a tug on the leash.
Trash incinerators have been the way of the future in other parts of the world for decades. Australia is using the technology. Perhaps New Zealand should catch up.
If the coalition government wants to be transformative, as it declares it is, it could clear the way for two household waste incinerators, one in Auckland and the other in Christchurch.
at 11:51 AM