Understanding waste-to-energy plants

Source: The post is based on the article Understanding waste-to-energy plants published in The Hindu on 22nd March 2023. 

Syllabus: GS 3 – Environment 

Relevance: problems with Waste to Energy Plants 

News: The Kerala government recently announced the State’s first waste-to-energy project in Kozhikode. The planned facility is expected to be built in two years and generate about 6 MW of power.  

What do waste-to-energy projects do?  

These projects use non-recyclable dry waste to generate electricity and in turn increase the State’s power generation capacity and ease the solid waste management (SWM) burden. 

These plants use non-biodegradable waste to generate power. The waste is combusted to generate heat, which is converted into electricity. 

Why is it needed in Kozhikode?  

Kozhikode has a population of about 6.3 lakh and generates approximately 300 tones per day (TPD) of waste. Of this, around 205 TPD is biodegradable and 95 TPD is non-biodegradable. 

Out of the 95 TPD non-biodegradable waste, only about 5 TPD is recycled. Therefore, the remaining non-recyclable dry waste could be used to generate power at the waste-to-energy plant. 

What are the concerns associated with non-biodegradable waste required to generate electricity? 

Solid wastes usually contain 55-60% biodegradable organic waste which gets converted into organic compost. 25-30% are non-biodegradable dry waste and around 15% are silt, stones, and drain waste.  

Out of non-biodegradable wastes, only 2-3%, like hard plastics, metals, and e-waste, is recyclable. The remaining consists of low-grade plastic, rags, and cloth that can’t be recycled.  

This part of the non-recyclable dry waste is the most challenging portion of the SWM system. The presence of these materials also reduces the efficiency of recycling other dry and wet waste.  

What are the challenges with Waste to Energy plants? 

Read Here: Waste to Energy Plants: Benefits and Concerns 

What measures can be adopted to overcome these challenges? 

First, people need to follow strict segregation practices and process biodegradable wastes. For example, Kozhikode’s projected population and waste generation rate could use around 100 TPD of non-recyclable dry waste to generate power. But this is only possible when people follow proper segregation.  

Second, the municipality must ensure that only non-biodegradable dry waste is sent to the plant and separately manage the other kinds of waste. 

Third, it is also necessary that biodegradable-waste-processing plants should operate efficiently. Else, all the waste would be transferred to Waste to Energy Plants which might affect its power generation capacity. 

Fourth, Segregation should be streamlined to ensure the waste coming to the facility has 2,800-3,000 kcal/kg calorific value for proper generation of electricity. 

Fifth, the department responsible for SWM should be practical about the high cost of power generation. Hence, a tripartite agreement between the municipality, the plant operator, and the power distribution agency might be fruitful. 

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