White Paper on Municipal Waste Incineration

Statistics on waste production and management in Italy are quite accurate for municipal waste, while in the case of special waste there are more uncertainties. This is partly due to the accounting systems in use and partly due to the characteristics of the classification system based on EWC codes. Indeed, municipal waste is subject to accurate accounting and is categorised by a limited number of waste codes (Chapter 20 of the EWC). Treatment processes applied to municipal waste (e.g. sorting, incineration) produce special waste. Consequently, special waste may also consist of material that is generated from the treatment of municipal waste, as well as from the treatment of special waste itself.

by Stefano Cernuschi, Mario Grosso, Federico Viganò, Maria Chiara Zanetti, Deborah Panepinto, Marco Ragazzi, Andrea Magrini and Francesco Lombardi

The White Paper consists of a coordinated and organic synthesis of studies and knowledge already available on the technology of incineration with energy recovery of non-recyclable residual municipal waste in order to reduce the use of landfill disposal.

In the first part, starting from the available data, the irreplaceable support that incineration with energy recovery (waste to energy) can provide in the management of different waste streams is emphasized. In the description of the operation of the heat treatment, the environmental and energy balances of incineration are also illustrated, highlighting how these processes are among the most controlled in the Italian and international industrial landscape and that the residues produced are now almost entirely recycled.

With regard to emissions into the atmosphere, the impact of the incinerator in the area of interest, which is found to be marginal or insignificant, is reported with various case studies. The contribution to the decarbonisation of waste to energy plants is also highlighted as a consequence of the emissions avoided to produce the same energy with the country’s fuel mix, and due to the alternative scenario of landfill disposal.

In the second part, dedicated to the analysis of epidemiological studies conducted in different areas of the planet where WtE plants are present, it is highlighted that there is no evidence about the presence of cancer risk factors or negative effects on reproduction or on human development.

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published: Utilitalia - water environment energy, 4|2021
Keywords: Energy Recovery, Landfilling, Italy