Burning issue

These are marketed to people as ‘waste to energy’ or a green alternative to landfill.

The technologies carry names such as ‘pyrolysis’ or ‘gasification’. However, the European Union has declared that these are just different names for the same ‘animal’. They are certainly not a new technology.

Waste to energy sounds excellent. The truth, however, is that by burning only a fraction of the embedded energy will be released. When it is burned, new products need to be produced, hence a net waste of energy.

When clean rubbish is burned, the exhaust gases and ash do not pose much of a problem. However, in practice it is very complicated to make sure any toxic input is avoided. Think of batteries, treated pine, plastics with bromide, heavy metals and so forth.

Experience in Europe and the United States has proved that many of these plants could not reach the restrictions on dioxin emissions. They had to be closed and dismantled, with an enormous loss of taxpayers’ money.

By the way, don’t think the toxic exhaust is only a problem for Rockingham or Kwinana. Studies have shown that the present output of the Kwinana industry strip travels all the way up the coast, following the Fremantle Doctor.

In the end, our only sustainable option is to recycle, re-use, reduce and redesign. Anything else will create just another problem.