Waste not, want not?
THE plan is to make it ‘the energy showroom of the world’ within 20 years. At present the Amagerforbraendingen Incineration Plant handles the waste of 535,000 and 36,000 companies in the municipality of Copenhagen, treating 400,000 tonnes of waste per year, generating electrical heat for 140,000 households in the region.
“We are trying to give a service that takes into account people’s needs,” explained Mr Uffe Juul Andersen, Environmental Manager of the plant to members of Mayo County Council’s Strategic Policy Committee for the Environment. The ten-strong delegation was in the Danish capital last week on a three-day study tour of waste management practices in a country whose first incinerator was constructed in 1901 and where a group of landowners established R98, a non-profit refuse collection company, in 1798. Denmark is light years ahead of Ireland, not only in terms of physical waste management, but in terms of attitudes towards the industry.
“No problem at all,” replied a slightly bemused Mr Andersen, when questioned about anti-incinerator objections to incineration. “We started this in the 1970s when no-one thought about the environment at all. We were steps ahead. Waste handling has to be looked at holistically.”
In the Copenhagen region 73 percent of waste is incinerated, 25 percent recycled and a meagre 0.2 percent is deposited in landfill sites which may never be filled as initially anticipated. The 375DK tax on landfill, compared with a 350DK tax on incineration, hints at where their priority lies. The absence of any tax on recycling confirms the direction the Danish authorities wish to take.
“The whole purpose of our existence is to make waste collection as cheap as possible for the customer,” insists Mr Jes Konig, Development Manager of R98. “One of our objectives is to handle waste as a valuable raw material.”
R98 highlights consultation as a key factor in how it deals with the waste of its 600,000 customers, amounting to some 310,000 tonnes per annum. Its recycling process began 25 years ago when they started collecting glass separately, followed by distinct paper collections three years later. Mr Konig admits that this educational process is ongoing and remains a challenge, even in a State as environmentally attuned as Denmark.
The waste management mentality is perhaps best exemplified by the manager of the RGS90 Recycling Centre at the Kalvebod Environment Centre on the outskirts of the capital. “Sometimes we come upon a waste that we don’t know how to handle,” muses Mr Jens Nejrup. “Then we have to close our eyes and think what can we use this for?”
Mr Nejrup outlines how 93 percent of construction waste is recycled, with the emphasis on reducing the levels of pollutant materials going into landfill and affecting ground-water. More than 30,000 truckloads of polluted soil are tipped at the centre each year, with most of this recycled into an improved material which is sold on. Only eight percent of demolition waste is incinerated, but every type of material that is roasted at temperatures in excess of 850 degrees in the giant kiln at Amagerforbraendingen is considered a raw material in the annual generation of 150,000 mg/Wh and 3,000TJ of heat for the district.
“It seems to be the brainy way to go,” observed Cllr Johnnie O’Malley, chairman of the SPC. “By the sounds of it, we are burying a resource.”
Uffe Juul Andersen does not bat an eyelid when inquiries about emissions are put to him. He outlines how emissions of dioxins have consistently dropped during the past ten years and have remained comfortably within the realm of EU regulations through the efficiently-operated chimney-flue filtering system. He explains how emission samples are taken four times a year for analysis by an independent regulating body, and how levels of dust, water and smells are continually monitored, and it is clear that while Denmark operates in the Champions League of waste management that Ireland is situated in a League of Ireland which wastes too much time by comparison.
Representatives of the Mayo County Council SPC who attended were Cllr Johnnie O’Malley (chairman), Cllr Margaret Adams, Cllr Seamus Weir, Cllr Johnny O’Malley, Cllr Mark Winters (Ballina Town Council), Dave Breen (ICTU), Michael Biggins (IFA Mayo), Patsy Bourke (Senior Executive Engineer, Mayo County Council), Maria O’Connell (Mayo County Council), Mary Barrett (Mayo County Council).
What some of the visitors thought of the Danish system …
FG Councillor, Westport Electoral Area
“I wouldn’t be afraid of incinerating at all after I saw what they can do. I don’t think anybody thought they would be generating electricity with an incinerator, but that they would be just burning and getting rid. But to think that they are generating electricity and selling it off. If it was a thing that Mayo County Council was to consider putting up an incinerator and having a recycling centre, I think it would be the right thing to do to form a committee in each area and bring people out to see it. I don’t think we could get the message across to people without them actually seeing exactly the way it works. For anyone that’s afraid of incineration I suppose they would want to see that operation to see how efficient and how effective it is and how well it can be done.
“Another thing that impressed me is the way that they get rid of the toxins after they have everything incinerated. Lime is liquidised and sprayed into it. Lime, down the years, was known as something to kill a lot of germs and bugs, and to think that that’s what they’re using to take the toxins out of the fumes after incineration was amazing.
“What struck me most is how they recycle broken-up concrete. If an old building is pulled down, it’s recycled and turned into gravel. The asphalt up the road is recycled, that amazed me. We’re at least 20 years behind them. What we’re filling into the land is ridiculous. The only thing that should be going into landfill is clay, soil, earth. Concrete, asphalt and that sort of thing shouldn’t be going into landfill.”
Chairman, IFA Mayo
“The people there seem to be quite willing to live within the shadow of the incinerator. They are talking about building a new housing estate on the same site as the incineration plant, which is unbelievable. And the way they are talking it is not going to be low-cost housing but one which looks at the royal residence a mile-and-a-half across the waterfront.“I honestly believe that we can’t keep going the way that we are going and pretending that burying our waste in landfill is the way to do it. Because it’s buried under ground it’s out of sight and [we assume] it’s not affecting the atmosphere. But it can be affecting ground water, there can be methane coming off it, which all could be doing as much damage as the incineration process.“Before I went out there I would have been of the opinion that if an incinerator was to go into the west of Ireland they would probably have to pick some remote area. But to get the full benefit of it, it needs to be in a large urban area.
“We’re going to have to face up to the fact that we can’t afford to be wasting this energy. There were lessons to be learned there and we are going to have to change our mindset as regards incineration, and deal with facts not fiction. That plant was 30 years old and I presume a new plant would be a lot more efficient. If we’re going down that road, the technology that is there now has been proven. We won’t be working with trial and error.”
Balllina Town Council
“Denmark highlighted just how intensively waste is managed and how waste is treated as a raw material there, whereas in Ireland - where we are years behind - waste is treated as a problem we have to get rid of.“Diminishing landfill capacity, spiralling disposal costs and a shift in government waste policy has encouraged the development of other forms of waste management technologies such as recycling, composting, digestion. Incineration with energy recovery will have to be considered here. Used collectively, these technologies form a modern Integrated Waste Management System. This is the overall term used to describe a system of dealing with waste materials, which focuses more on regeneration than disposal. In an integrated approach, a number of systems are put into place with a view to recovering much of the waste we currently dispose of and turning it into a new resource.“How we deal with our waste has a direct impact on how we deal with the environment. For the most part, our decisions as consumers will help or hinder the environment. After years of throwing so much away, we are now realising that out of sight is not out of mind. What we throw in the bin, onto the tip, or down the drain is part of our responsibility and affects the environment.”