When it comes to waste incineration, Europe is definitely leading the charge worldwide. Europe has about half of the 800 municipal waste incinerators operating on the planet. The rest are mostly found in North America and Asia. Why is waste incineration so popular in Europe? Let’s take a look at some of the numbers.
From Waste to Bottom Ash
It’s important to note that waste incineration is a secondary step in the waste management process. The first step is recycling and composting to reduce the amount of waste that ends up at the incinerator. For example, Germany and Austria both recycle more than 50% of municipal waste!
Approximately 70 million tonnes of waste is incinerated each year to generate 29 terawatt hours of electricity and 73 terawatt hours of heat. That’s enough energy and heat for all of Denmark, Finland and Latvia put together. And it’s no small task to heat Finland through the winter!
Another benefit of waste incineration is the reduction in mass. That 70 million tonnes of waste is reduced by more than 60% through incineration so that there is less than 25 million tonnes to manage each year. Most of this remaining material, called “bottom ash,” is made up of particles that can be used as construction aggregate as well as valuable metals that do not burn. Through recycling and proper use of bottom ash, very little material needs to be landfilled. For example, in Denmark only 4% of waste ends up at a landfill.
Valuable Metal Recovery
So what happens to these valuable metals? If there is no specific recovery process for the metals then they either end up in building materials or in the landfill. Most bottom ash processing will remove the large pieces of metal but don’t have a process to collect the small pieces of gold, silver, copper and other high value metals from the bottom ash.
Sepro has a process for collecting these small, high value metal particles called the Sepro Fine Slag Treatment Plant. If you’re interested in more information about valuable metal recovery from incinerator bottom ash, please contact us today!
For more information about the incineration and waste-to-energy industry, you can visit the Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants website.