Tag Archives: Uppsala

Let it Burn

Hey peeps, sorry for the delay on my posts but it’s been a crazy week with deadlines 😀 (nervous laugh) nevertheless, you got me here! As you can read from the title, this post will be about fire… fire used in incineration plants, where companies burn trash in order to produce electricity and heating (pretty useful in the case of cold countries like Sweden). Last week with the course on Waste Management that I’m taking at KTH, we had a field trip to Vattenfall’s incineration plant in Uppsala… cool selfie of my German friend Ben and me…

At this incineration plant Vattenfall produces electricity and more than 90% from all the heating needed in Uppsala, 4th largest city in Sweden. The electricity comes from burning the trash that will help boil water (by a heat exchanger), water will boil and steam will be produced; this steam will be used as the fuel to move a turbine that will produce electricity. Heat is also produced in a high efficient combustion and helps keeping the houses in the surrounding warm. Unfortunately it was forbidden to take pictures inside the plant, but trust me it was amazing watching through a thick glass the combustion chamber. It was like a huge pile of garbage on fire haha (literally like a 4 floors high fire flame) and the inside temperature was about 850ºC.

Sweden’s electricity comes roughly 50 % from burning trash… good right? No fossil oil, gasoline or diesel burned, right? Well… NO! The process is efficient, YES, but it’s not as good or as “green” as you may think! Why? Let’s think about what a common bag or garbage may contain…

  • Some organic waste when it’s not properly separated (food, wood, etc)
  • Some metals (cans for example)
  • Some carton from packaging
  • Some crystal…

…but the most important content in our garbage…

  • PLASTIC! Large amount of plastic packaging and most of the times the bag itself!

Let’s remember that there is not such a thing as the “avg. garbage bag”, but it estimated between 20-50% of plastic content in household waste!!!  If you are still struggling connecting the dots, plastic comes from FOSSIL FUELS! So literally burning garbage is burning fossil fuels (in less amounts and controlled way of course).

In conclusion, an incineration plant helps get rid of the waste in an “efficient” way where companies can recover energy from the process to obtain heating and electricity. Does incineration is the best way to help the planet, NO! The best way according to the waste hierarchy is to

  1. REDUCE CONSUMPTION (let’s stop buying things that we don’t need),
  2. REUSING (come on, give it a second opportunity if possible),
  3. RECYCLING (let’s sort our residues properly :D),
  4. ENERGY RECOVERY (Ok… now let ’em burn!),
  5. LANDFILL (The least preferred 🙁 nothing else can be done with the residues so they have to be buried)

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