When it comes to waste disposal systems, there are two popular options that governments and communities typically consider: landfills and waste-to-energy (also known as incineration) facilities. Each system has its unique pros and cons, which include convenience, pollution, and even potential for metal recovery. So, Sepro Urban Mining decided to take an in-depth look at these two systems and determine which one reigns supreme. 

Do you have some knowledge of landfills or waste-to-energy facilities? Want to chime in on the debate? Make sure to comment on Sepro’s LinkedIn or Facebook page!


Landfills

What exactly is a landfill? Well, a landfill is a carefully designed structure built on top of or inside the ground, where trash is disposed of. The goal of a landfill is to bury trash sustainably so that waste is isolated from the environment. In this way, local groundwater sources aren’t contaminated, and when the landfill is full, it can be repurposed. 


Landfill Advantages


  • Landfills are convenient

A well-thought-out landfill is conveniently located for cities and communities. Ideally, a landfill is built close enough to a city or town so that transportation is kept to a minimum. This way, excess pollution caused by garbage trucks or garbage barges is low. A landfill is also a source of jobs and careers for a community, thereby helping the local economy. 

  • Landfills provide options for dumping a wide variety of waste material

Landfills can be a place to dump non-recyclable materials. They can also come in different types to cater to different kinds of waste, and they can be designed to contain hazardous waste safely. They are quite versatile!

  • Landfills can help generate energy

The heat and methane produced by landfills can be harnessed and used to generate energy. This can help provide power to local communities. 

  • Landfills are cost-effective

Some countries or communities cannot afford to build high-tech recycling centres. Some argue that it’s more cost-effective to use landfills than to spend time processing recyclable materials: the extra funds used in recycling centres would be better spent elsewhere. This makes landfills the more cost-effective option for many communities. 

  • Landfills can be converted into parks or cities

After a landfill is full, it can be repurposed into a park or another green space. There might even be a park near your home that used to be a landfill or even a quarry. 


Landfill Disadvantages


  • Methane, a byproduct of landfills, is a greenhouse gas

In a landfill, everything is buried in the same place: plastics, organics, you name it. All of this waste breaks down without air. Unfortunately, when air is removed from the breakdown process, the trash releases methane which as a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. 

  • Landfills can cause leaching and contamination

As rainwater trickles through landfills, it collects hazardous particles, producing a substance called leachate. This substance can leach into the surrounding environment, polluting nearby soil, rivers, streams, and groundwater sources. 

  • Landfills are full of buried treasure

Every year, old laptops, cellphones, and other e-waste find their way into landfills. These products contain valuable resources, like gold, that can be collected. When these old products are sent to landfills, they are buried and forgotten, increasing the need to mine for virgin metals and minerals. 

  • Landfills encourage lazy residents

Landfills make it easy for lazy residents to dispose of all their waste, no matter whether it’s organic or recyclable. In cities, landfill dumping rates are relatively cheap, reducing any incentive to sort and recycle responsibly. 

  • Landfills smell, are ugly, and take up a lot of real estate

It’s a giant pit full of garbage. What do you expect? 


Waste-to-Energy Facilities – Incinerators

Municipalities all over the world use incinerators as an alternative to landfills. At these facilities, waste is incinerated at high temperatures, generating electricity and heat for local communities. During the incineration process, a byproduct called incinerator bottom ash is created. This ash can contain precious and heavy metals. These metals can be collected and sold to smelters, adding an extra revenue stream for these facilities and reducing the need to mine virgin resources. But, like all waste management systems, there are certain pros and cons.  


Incineration Disadvantages


  • Incinerators are expensive to build

The resources required to build a fully functioning incineration facility are substantial, especially when compared to a landfill. The cost of running these facilities is also quite high. 

  • Incinerators cause air pollution

Incinerators generate smoke and emit CO2. There’s no getting around it. All emissions are measured continuously and incineration facilities must abide by certain standards to help minimize and reduce these greenhouse gases and potential pollutants. Incinerators are also built with filters to trap as many pollutants as possible. 

  • Incinerators are typically only a viable option in the developed world

Since there is a substantial cost to building and running these facilities, they are typically only built in the developed world. Developing countries, the places that might benefit the most from these facilities, often have priorities above waste disposal systems and more limited budgets. 

  • Incinerators require waste to run

Some critics believe that there should be more emphasis on reducing and reusing materials rather than throwing waste away. Incinerators need waste to burn, so having an incineration facility may reduce the likelihood for local governments to support waste reduction campaigns. 


Incineration Advantages


  • Incinerators benefit local communities

Incineration facilities provide electricity and heat to local communities. There is so much value that can be recovered from waste-to-energy facilities! They also provide careers to many hard-working people. 

  • Incinerators decrease waste quantity by 95-96%

When waste is incinerated, its mass is reduced by 95-96%. The bottom ash that’s produced can be collected and used as construction aggregate material. This process reduces the area required for waste storage. When compared to landfills, we can see significant benefits in this area. 

  • Incinerators do not leach into groundwater sources

Leachate is a non-issue with incineration systems. No groundwater or soil sources become polluted, and local communities and ecosystems do not have to worry about the environmental impact. 

  • Incinerators reduce pollution

While it’s true that incinerators prevent leachate from finding its way into the environment, their positive environmental impact is even greater when we look at the bigger picture. No methane is released during the incineration process. The high temperatures also eliminate any germs and chemicals that could be harmful if left to break down in a landfill.

  • Effective metal recovery from incinerator bottom ash is possible

Incinerator bottom ash contains precious metals and heavy metals that can be difficult for incineration facilities to deal with.  However, these metals can be recovered and sold directly to recyclers and metal refiners, giving an added source of revenue for these facilities. 

The collection of metals from incinerator bottom ash also reduces the demand to harvest virgin minerals, further reducing environmental impacts. Sepro Urban Mining has developed a system to recover metals and minerals in fine particle sizes of less than 2mm. To learn more about metal recovery, and the benefits of adding this metal recovery system to waste-to-energy facilities, contact our team of experts today.