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Campaigns | Why burn waste

Understanding Waste and Burning

What is incineration?

​To understand incineration, let us look at Open burning and Closed controlled burning.




Open burning - It is what we see around us all the time. Open burning is rampant in the country all over, rural or urban areas. Open burning of waste creates carbon dioxide, smoke and soot. Soot has particles that cause severe health hazard and also has a very high global warming potential.

In a research done by Kings College London and Imperial College, large soot amounts were produced when the waste contained PET bottles or textile was burnt.

Soot from open waste burning release between 2% and 10% of the global emissions of carbon dioxide. Research says global emissions will increase by 70% by 2050. If burning of waste is not addressed at the policy level, it can lead to catastrophic events. 

Closed controlled burning

While open burning has many hazards, the law actually permits closed controlled burning of certain types of waste. Examples of these are 

  • Biomedical waste: Anatomical waste, chemical waste, soiled waste, chemotherapy waste, discarded linen and medicines and laboratory waste, sanitary pads, diapers, bandaids.

  • Hazardous waste: Corrosive toxic material which is inflammable, explosive, or can react when exposed to other materials like paint cans, fertilizer cases, empty polish containers and pesticide bottles.

Taking into consideration the high volatility and potential for the spread of disease, these streams of waste are permitted by law to be incinerated in a controlled environment which ensures that there are pollution control devices and volume minimization of the waste material. As consumers, it is a priority for us to segregate, store and dispose of these categories of waste safely and responsibly.

What is Waste to Energy?

​Let us look at Biological  waste to energy and Thermal waste to energy.


Biological waste to energy
It uses biological processes to generate energy, biodigesters and other anaerobic digesters are used for biogas production. These systems decompose organic matter into biogas and slurry. Biogas can be used as a replacement for CNG after some purification. Most commonly used biomass materials are food waste, plants and wood.

Thermal waste to energy

These are processes that generate electricity and/or heat directly through combustion, or produce a combustible fuel such as pyrolysis oil, Syn gas etc.

Waste to Energy Incinerators:
Incineration is the combustion of organic matter such as waste with energy recovery, is the most common WTE implementation and are commonly known as 'WTE incinerators'

First Incinerator

They were first adopted  in European countries where segregation levels are very high and compliance to regulatory and safety norms is stringent. When, where and why was the first plant set up ? Let’s take a peep at it


But are waste-to-energy plants, the right solution for India and other developing countries?Our country faces twin problems - poor waste segregation (and hence low calorific value) & poor regulations and monitoring. 


Stages of Waste to Energy process

​Waste to energy does not magically reduce waste in one shot. In fact there four stages in this process, each of which caused pollution in its own way. Let’s look at what kind of emissions and residual discharge happens from the incineration process during the 4 stages of its transportation, combustion, pollution control and residue disposal. These emissions and residual discharges have to be minimal or negligible to ensure that the plants in operation are safe for communities living around them and are not causing any environmental damage. It’s important for communities, municipalities, environment impact studies and expert committees to keep this in mind while planning for one.

What do the emissions contain?

One of the most toxic chemicals that are released during Waste Incineration are ‘Dioxins’ - belonging to the so-called 'Dirty Dozen', a group of dangerous and very long lasting 'persistent organic compounds or PoP’s'. 

Let’s see how they can be detrimental for our health & environment if not disposed of scientifically. Means of testing dioxins world over are expensive and limited. There are other challenges in testing emissions too. Read more about it in our blog section.

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