US environmentalists are calling for big business to consider funding more ‘waste to energy’ projects in the country.
Although the ‘waste to energy’ model has been proved effective in many countries across Europe, in particular in Sweden, American investors are not coming forward to invest in projects.
In the US, ‘waste to energy’ refers to incineration of waste to produce electricity and heat. There are several incineration facilities in Europe with Sweden leading the way in the industry.
The first incineration facility was built in Sweden in the 1970’s and was met with scepticism and harsh criticism from citizens who did not believe that the system would be more effective than landfill.
However, forty years and thirty incineration facilities later the people of Sweden have accepted ‘waste to energy’ facilities as one of the cleanest and most efficient ways of producing energy. In fact, one station supplies heat and electricity for the entire city of Malmo.
Part of the criticism of incineration facilities in the US is directed at concerns over the environmental impact that burning rubbish has on the atmosphere. Some potential investors have been put off because they believe burning rubbish releases dioxins into the atmosphere.
The process of burning rubbish does release dioxins but according to a report by Hamilton Spectator writer Christopher Hulme, Sweden’s super efficient stations recorded a release of just 0.7 grams of dioxins into the atmosphere over the last year. When this is compared to the release of harmful gases and even the spontaneous combustion which is caused by landfill it seems obvious what the better option is.
Although lack of knowledge about the efficiency of incinerators is part of the reason investors are saying no, the main cause is of course money. Most large investors expect a return of at least 15% on any investment but because the industry is so new in America it’s impossible to guarantee this percentage of profit.
Another reason why investors are reluctant is the vast space that is still available in the US where landfill could be carried out. Because the USA is such a large country there is not as much concern over use of space as there is in Europe. As landfill is still a pretty profitable concern it’s a more secure and profitable investment for investors. This attitude leads to short term profit but does not take into account the long term damage that landfill is doing to the US.
Environmental consultants and campaigners are hoping that they can persuade private investors to see the bigger picture and take a chance on ‘waste to energy’ facilities in the near future.