There is a broad spectrum of chemicals emitted from incinerators but even in rural situations the overall contribution is usually less than 1% of existing background levels – including dioxins and furans.
Even if 1 million tonnes of municipal waste was to be incinerated in Ireland this would contribute less than 2% of the dioxins emitted to the air (EPA 2001).
The EPA, FSAI and WHO have all indicated that properly managed well run incinerators do not impact on the environment or on human health.
There are 11 incinatators operating in Ireland. Studies carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) show no increase in dioxins in dairy products produced in the vicinity of the plants.
Levels of dioxins in mothers breast milk and in dairy products (key indicators) have decreased over the past 20 years despite the increased use of incineration in Europe.
Legislation controlling emissions from incinerators is among the strictest environmental legislation in the world.
Incineration will not compete with recycling as infrastructure like thermal treatment plants and landfill will be sized to take the appropriate non-recyclable percentage of the waste stream.
Old badly managed incinerators are being closed down in Europe where they do not comply with the new standards for monitoring and operating. However, new facilities are being provided in their place. Incineration capacity across Europe is increasing.
Modern incinerators reduce waste to between 6-13% of the original volume. Of this, approximately 5-10% is bottom ash and is inert and only 1-3% of the original volume is fly ash requiring disposal in a special facility.
Uncontrolled burning of waste is one of the biggest threats to the Irish environment today because it involves burning waste at temperature levels which create dioxins. Modern well-managed incinerators burn waste at much higher temperatures at which dioxins are destroyed. For example, a modern municipal incinerator treating 1 million tonnes of waste in controlled conditions, releases just 0.54 grams of dioxins to the atmosphere. A recent EPA report (2001) estimates that 60,000 tonnes of waste burned in the back yard produced 18 grams of dioxins.