Pyrolysis of Waste

Swansea Friends of the Earth has for many years opposed incineration with such projects as the Crymlyn Burrows Incinerator. Indeed, this is the position taken by most dedicated environmentalists including our national body. As part of this issue we oppose waste pyrolysis and gasification too.

The European Incineration Directive makes this statement about the official definition of an incinerator

"incineration plant" means any stationary or mobile technical unit and equipment dedicated to the thermal treatment of wastes with or without recovery of the combustion heat generated. This includes the incineration by oxidation of waste as well as other thermal treatment processes such as pyrolysis, gasification or plasma processes in so far as the substances resulting from the treatment are subsequently incinerated.
So we can see that legally there is little difference between plain incineration and incineration by pyrolysis and there are still very significant environmental problems with the pyrolysis form of incineration.

The major problems fall into three categories.

1. It is the case that the majority if not all local authorities are not in a position where they are achieving the maximum rates of recycling and composting. In this situation the use of pyrolysis and gasification technologies will serve to undermine efforts to maximise recycling and composting. These are self-evidently much superior methods of maximising the saving of energy and resources

2. Pyrolysis and gasification are dependent on a feedstock that contains a lot of materials such as paper, plastics garden and kitchen waste because of their high calorific values. Steps that increase reuse, recycling and composting in an environmentally more friendly manner will serve to change in a dramatic fashion the quantity of these waste items that occurs in residual waste. It is easy to see that this decrease is likely to reduce the ability of pyrolysis and gasification plants to be able to continue operating in a profitable manner.

3. It is clear that Pyrolysis and gasification as a disposal method for municipal waste are not methods that could be described as 100% renewable energy technology. We also know that subjecting them to proper analytical methods has demonstrated that it can be an improvement in terms of the effect on climate change to landfill waste that is properly stabilised than to use disposal methods that burn it. This is notwithstanding the claims that have been made with regards to the efficiencies of those technologies.

At a national level the view of Friends of the Earth is that focusing on 100% renewable technologies of energy generation is the desired approach not to waste money on these environmentally substandard techniques.

For further information See the briefing on FoE England,Wales and Northern Ireland's website

Swansea Friends of the Earth