The debate has been going on for a while. Should we or should we not have the Gamma Covanta waste incinerator in Mauritius? I don’t know much about incinerators and the technology they use and so I’m definitely not in a position to comment on whether they are safe or not. So my analysis of the situation will be based on other points:
1. No free lunch
We’ve got a lot of waste and don’t know what to do: let’s burn it and we’ll get energy! Doesn’t that just too good to be true: turning a major problem (too much waste) into a source of revenue. There’s just got to be a catch somewhere. I might be mistaken but I’ve not heard anyone saying that we should classify the waste and selectively burn only some of them. This is just too too easy and definitely look fishy.
2. Why do they want to set it up so badly?
Gamma Covanta seems to be extremely keen on setting up this plant. There have been adverts everywhere on the island and recently there are even adverts on the radio saying that the incinerator is our only solution to deal with waste in Mauritius. Gamma and Covanta are not philanthropic organizations – they are businesses and the aim of a business is to make money – and if they are putting so much effort to convince everyone, there’s got to be a lot of money behind it.
Well this is just my personal opinion and there’s no scientific basis behind what I’m saying but common sense tells me that it just can’t be that good, that easy and generate some and have no side effects.
Panaceas like that just don’t exist.
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Update (23 July 2009) starts here: The myth of dioxins
I’ve assisted the talk at the university today (Thursday 23 July 2009) given by Prof Jean Francois Narbonne. It was a good talk followed by a very nice debate. In the light of this, I know a bit more about incinerators and the Mauritian context and I was wrong along several lines:
- the incinerators, if used properly operating at 850 degrees, with filters are basically safe: the level of dioxin the emit is well below the level recommended by the European union
- I was mistaken, the incinerator will separate the different kind of waste and selectively burn some
- incinerators are not a super way of becoming rich; dumping the waste like we currently do is.
Is it really the solution?
However, it’s not that great and I’m not too sure it’s the best for Mauritius. To operate the incinerator, we will need a lot of waste; if I got it right, an incinerator needs at least 150 tonnes of waste to be effective – will we have enough to burn? Moreover, we are not going to burn metal, glass and plastic (these can be recycled) and that leaves us with burning paper and organic waste (I suppose that will produce lots of Carbon dioxide). Out of these two, in Mauritius, we mainly have organic waste but it’s got lot of water and the amount of energy required to dehumidify these might be more than what the incinerator produces. In addition to that, if we burn all the organic waste and paper, there’ll be nothing left for composting as these need a minimal amount of waste as well to be cost effective notwithstanding the fact that even paper can be recycled. Finally, even incinerators produce waste which must be stored in class 1 landfills (landfills that are constructed with impervious material that will prevent fluids from leaking into the ground and polluting underground water for example).
What are the other options?
Landfills like we have in Mare Chicose seems to be worse than incinerators. In addition to being an eyesore, it’s very polluting.
Recycling paper, plastic, metal, glass, … basically everything that would seem ideal but do we have enough of these to make these recycling plants sustainable. I think we already have a plastic recycling plant (one of my friends take plastic bottles somewhere in Plaine Lauzan I think) and some people are so keen on recycling metal that they even steal them but I think these are exported. I don’t know if it’s cost-effective to export all that can be recycled though; again I know very little about waste disposal and all the mechanics involved there.
Given that we have mainly organic waste, composting could be a solution there. Professor Narbonne warned against producing compost of poor quality but since we mainly have organic waste, I suppose that wouldn’t happen here. But still not a complete solution: what happens to non-organic and non-recyclable waste?
Plasma arc waste disposal: this is what is used in Japan but it seems to require high technology.
Others exist but I don’t know enough and this post is getting too long anyway !
1. Wrong debate!
Down the line, it would seem that dioxin is not the main concern for the incinerator. Why the hell are so many people talking about that? Two possibilities:
- The ecologists are totally clueless about what is happening!
- Gamma is trying to focus the debate on that so that it appears as the major hurdle. Since, it seems, that it can be easily proved that the dioxin levels are very low with incinerators, there’s no reason to stop the project and Gamma wins easily.
2. We need a solution … soon
Landfills for everything is not an option and an alternative needs to be found soon. Like I said before, panaceas do not exist and I believe the ideal (or less evil) solution will be an array of techniques and I’m not too sure incinerators are the best choice (again, not because of dioxins) – even Professor Narbonne prefers other alternatives to incinerators. We need a Mauritian solution to the problem as the Mauritius context is very specific.
Who’d believe that waste would be such an interesting topic! 🙂