Pros and cons: Burning waste instead of sending it to landfill

Leah Panapa 16/09/2021

LISTEN: Is burning waste better than sending it off to the landfill? There’s a proposal for a $350 million dollar plant to be set up in the Canterbury township of Waimate that does just that - burn rubbish.

It’s estimated the new facility could turn up to 350,000 tonnes of non recyclable rubbish from across the South Island into lower-carbon electricity and roading material each year.

Although such schemes are common overseas, if approved, it would be the first of its kind in New Zealand. 

But would the trade-off for a small electricity generating wind farm be toxic gasses and substances ejected into the environment?

The Cons:

Dr Jeff Seadon, a researcher at the Auckland University of Technology, believes it's a bad idea and we should not go down this path.

"Putting [waste] into the landfill is a safe storage system and when we look at our modern landfills they are extremely efficient.

"We're capturing 95 percent of the methane emissions from them," he told Magic Talk.

Dr Seadon says we need to look at diverting waste before it gets into the waste stream.

"The government is working on product stewardship schemes and more and more of these are meant to be rolled out."

He says these schemes will make manufacturers accountable for product waste.

"So that we in fact do not have these materials ending up in waste but going back into the circular economy," he told Magic Talk.

Dr Seadon says burning waste works against a circular economy, reduces jobs and stifles innovation.

The Pros:

The facility has been proposed by South Island Resource Recovery.

Board director Paul Taylor says it would receive waste from across the South Island.

He says they do not want to compete with recycling facilities and they intend to sort waste before it arrives at the plant to remove recyclable materials, including plastics, metal, glass, card and paper.

What would be sent into the fire would be a mix of organic matter, textiles, treated timber, industrial sludge, construction materials, commercial waste and even nappies.

Taylor says steam and hot water would be generated by the fire and most steam would push a turbine to create electricity.

This could go a long way in reducing the load on fossil-fuelled power plants, he says.

Listen to the full interviews with Dr Jeff Seadon and Paul Taylor above.

Magic Talk.

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