Incinerators in Disguise

Incinerators with names like "gasification," "pyrolysis," "plasma arc," and "waste-to-energy" all emit dioxins and other harmful pollutants, despite industry claims that they are "green" technologies.

Dozens of start-up companies are working to site a new generation of toxic "incinerators in disguise" in communities throughout the world. These are incinerators with names like gasification, pyrolysis, and plasma arc that are promoted by waste companies as "safe" and "green" for community health and the environment. Many of today's incinerator companies claim that they can safely, cost-effectively and sustainably turn any type of material such as household trash, tires, medical waste, biomass, refuse-derived-fuel and hazardous waste into electricity and fuels like ethanol and bio-diesel. Some companies go so far as to claim that their technology is "zero emissions" or "pollution-free" and not, in fact, incineration at all. However, all of these technologies emit dioxins and other harmful pollutants into the air, soil and water, and they are defined as incineration by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union[1].

Incinerator technologies such as plasma, pyrolysis and gasification do have some different processes when compared to conventional mass-burn incineration. While mass-burn incinerators combust the waste in a single chamber, these incinerators typically heat the waste materials at high temperatures in one chamber with less oxygen present, and then burn the waste gases in a separate chamber connected to a smoke stack. Regardless of the technology used, the core destructive impacts of all types of incinerators remain the same.

Incinerators negatively impact public health, local economies, the climate and the environment. The short track record of pyrolysis, plasma and gasification incinerator technologies has shown even higher costs, less dependability, and inconsistent energy generation. In addition, data show that dioxins, furans and other toxins are formed in these systems, and in some cases, toxins are formed in higher quantities than in conventional mass-burn incinerators.

Learn more about the core impacts of all waste incinerators

[1] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Title 40: Protection of Environment, Hazardous Waste Management System: General, subpart B-definitions, 260.10, current as of February 5, 2008.

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