I write this article in total ignorance of the practicalities and implications of such exporting procedures, but it seems such a beneficial step to take, that I wonder whether it would not be viable.
Apparently, the US throws out 250 million tons of garbage annually. Roughly a third is recycled and the rest heads for the landfill. Oslo, for example, exemplifies the saying: “one man’s trash is another’s treasure”, by generating heat and electricity using rubbish-burning power stations. The ration of burning-to-creating rubbish in this city has increased to such an extent, that they need to import trash from Sweden, Ireland, England for the station to keep running. Apparently they wouldn’t mind taking on a few tons from the US. In total, 40 countries worldwide burn trash for energy.
It sounds like a dirty way to produce energy. But Northern Europe is extremely environmentally conscious. Waste-to-energy plants incinerate trash, with the heat converting water to steam in order to run turbines to produce electricity. The trash is separated into ash and flue gases. Metals, acids, and other toxic chemicals are removed from the gas through a series of filters, leaving only CO2 and water vapour. The ash - still toxic but volume much reduced - is carted off to line landfills.
Critics point out the ash is still toxic and the filtered gas still contains the greenhouse gas CO2. The question is whether the amount of CO2 released by waste-to-energy plants has a greater impact than the methane—a gas that traps more heat than CO2—that would have been released in landfill. The industry claims the process compares favourably, while environmentalists question the numbers.
Then there’s the other half of the argument. Labelling waste-to-energy as renewable competes with other favoured strategies like wind and solar. And shouldn’t we focus on recycling more stuff, instead of just burning it? It takes less energy to repurpose already constituted industrial materials than building them up new—plus, it saves resources.
Although waste-to-energy may not be a long-term energy solution and shouldn’t replace recycling, maybe it makes sense as an alternative to landfill.
As Chief Sustainability Officer at US waste-to-energy provider Covanta told Scientific American, “We have the same waste hierarchy as the EU: reduce, reuse, recycle, energy recovery and disposal. [This] is that step we call the ‘fourth R.’ After you reduce, reuse and recycle that, you take the step of energy recovery before you put it in the ground.
I slightly adapted the content of this article from: http://singularityhub.com/2013/06/10/oslo-burns-so-much-trash-for-energy-theyre-importing-rubbish/
The question I now pose is: Is it viable for South Africa to export rubbish to countries such as Norway? I cannot see the other alternative, creating and running such a power station ourselves, working successfully in our country at this point in time due to mismanagement issues. Is it not an excellent opportunity to create jobs, people to collect trash and handle the exporting? And is it not a killing- two-birds-with-one-stone opportunity?
It is possible I am too naïve, but I cannot help but wonder. I know there must have been others wondering the same thing, yet maybe it has not been voiced? I would like to hear any thoughts on the issue.
As a general comment, I think it is much easier to be discouraged when being stared in the eyes by the ever-increasing canyon slowly tearing us apart from the developed and quickly-developing nations. Yet, can we not use the gradient of wealth-to-poverty like the process of osmosis or diffusion to close the gap? I’m sure, unlike real diffusion/osmosis, we will not be dragging down the other end nearly as much as we are dragged up in the process.
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