Incineration in LEED for materials disposal technique?

Sarah Ward's picture
Sarah Ward
Consultant
May 30, 2014

I understand that recycling or reuse is the most preferable solution for materials. In construction some materials must be incinerated and huge companies like Covanta will incinerate materials that can't be recycled, reused or landfilled. Is incineration always an acceptable diversion, or is it only if other recycling methods are locally unavailable? (Per MR Construction & Demo Waste Mgmt Planning)

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Answer: 

Dear Sarah,

Incineration is not an acceptable diversion for the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Planning Prerequisite under any circumstance. The intent of this V4 prerequisite says,

To reduce construction and demolition waste disposed of in landfills and incineration facilities by recovering, reusing, and recycling materials.

Incineration like landfilling has quite significant negative environmental impacts. Every tonne of burnt waste releases around 5000 cubic metres of polluting gases containing many pollutants. Incinerators also produce millions of tonnes of contaminated ashes. People working in incinerators and residents living near such facilities are also known to have serious health impacts like lung cancer and heart diseases. Incineration of plastics also produces toxic dioxins. Heavy metals included in incineration are not destroyed and are usually emitted in the flue gases.

Although there are some incinerators now burn waste to produce energy, it is still not a sustainable practice owing to the large amount of electricity required for incineration. Allowing incineration, reduces the incentive in recycling materials. Waste to energy incineration is also 50% more expensive than landfilling giving it a high amount of financial risk.

On the other hand, recycling conserves three to five times more energy than that generated by Waste to Energy incineration. The only sustainable waste to energy program is anaerobic digestion, through which energy can be produced in a sustainable and cost effective way. Conversion technologies like pyrolysis, gasification and plasma arcs though used on small scale models are usually non- viable and not sustainable on large scale applications. Also, there is hardly any benefit in terms of comparing green-house emissions caused by incineration as against landfills. Also, the amount of ash generated by the incinerator is quite high and does not eliminate the need for landfill.

The idea behind the prerequisite is to use strategies like reducing, reusing and recycling to divert wastes from reaching landfills and incinerators.

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