Wednesday, March 29

Convert into energy what cannot be recycled, a real alternative

Zaldibar landfill burned down. / Eph

The recovery of waste that ends up in the landfill is another way of obtaining heat and electricity

If tomorrow the waste that is currently deposited in controlled landfills in Spain were sent to energy recovery plants, it would be possible to produce the equivalent of the consumption of 5.5 million people. They are data from the Urbaser company, which ensures that this real alternative for the treatment of certain waste represents significant economic savings that are not insignificant.

This waste treatment is carried out in various European countries, where about 40,000 GWh of electricity are produced from this source each year, which benefits some 18 million citizens. In Spain, this alternative is not practiced, according to Urbaser. “This decision depends mainly on the public administrations, responsible for waste treatment,” company sources explain.

This practice is widespread in northern Europe, where energy needs in the form of heat are high and energy recovery is widely implemented. Thus, in countries such as Sweden, Denmark or the Netherlands, they continue from the aforementioned company, “virtually no ton of household waste that could have been recovered for energy to produce electricity or heat for heating is landfilled.”

According to data from the Institute for the Diversification and Saving of Energy of Spain (IDAE), the amount of incinerated waste is very different between the different European countries. While some of them are committed to large-scale incineration and promote it with their waste management and treatment policies (the best example would be in countries like Germany, Sweden, Switzerland or the Netherlands), others mainly use landfills as the destination of waste. rejections, as is the case in Finland or Great Britain.

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As for Spain, the use of energy from waste is a much less established practice than in the rest of Europe. According to his calculations, only 10% of urban waste is used.

In Greece or Ireland, at the other extreme, they do not incinerate leftover waste. Finally, in general terms, dumping in controlled deposits continues to be the predominant option for waste management in the Old Continent.

What is valuation?

Both at a domestic and business level, the waste generated is separated according to the materials involved: packaging, glass, paper, food… Each of this waste must go to its corresponding treatment plant to, as far as possible, recover it. and/or recycle it.

However, in these recycling plants there is a part of the waste that cannot be recovered in the form of materials. This is what is known as rejection. What is done with it?

The traditional option is to deposit it in a controlled landfill, but the truth is that, through energy recovery, it can be used to generate electricity or heat, using it as fuel in a thermal treatment process.

This technique consists of subjecting this waste to a treatment that ends up generating energy, either in the form of electricity, steam or hot water. It can be used for both domestic and industrial use.

“By means of this process, energy can be obtained from a wide variety of waste”, explain Urbaser sources, who add that, in their specific case, they obtain it fundamentally from “the unusable fraction that comes out as reject from the recycling plants of waste”, although it also recovers and obtains energy from sewage treatment plant sludge.

An alternative to exploit

Urbaser assures that one of its objectives is to promote this energy recovery. To do this, it claims to have incorporated the necessary clean technology in several of its treatment plants, such as in the cities of Mallorca, Madrid, Cantabria, Guipúzcoa, Paris or Marseille. All of them have systems that allow them to transform non-recyclable urban waste into energy.

The main benefits of this technique are, on the one hand, that it generates energy in the form of electricity (which is delivered to the electrical network) or heat (which allows it to be used as heating, for example, in homes). But, in addition, “the volume of waste in controlled landfills is reduced and, finally, it is possible to reduce dependence on other energy sources such as gas or oil,” defend Urbaser sources.

The company defends that, well done, this energy recovery does not imply a greater risk of environmental impact. “The volume of waste in controlled landfills is reduced and, finally, dependence on other energy sources such as gas or oil is reduced,” they conclude.

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