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Waste-to-Energy: Emerging MSWM Solution


With population growth and waste generation rates spiraling upward, many communities worldwide have begun their search for alternative long-term solutions to the methods they have been employing so far to dispose of their solid waste; such as landfilling and open dumps. These methods are infeasible long-term solutions due to a multitude of reasons; such as improper or no waste treatment, high cost of landfilling, non-availability of land, and many more. Therefore, there is a clear need to reduce dependence on landfills and find better waste management solutions. At the same time, a parallel need exists to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels for energy generation and utilize innovative technologies that facilitate renewable energy sources.

Waste-to-Energy (WTE) initiatives seek to address these needs by redeploying waste from landfills for use in energy generation.


Europe is the largest and most enhanced market for WTE facilities, primarily because of the EU Circular Economy Package adopted in January 2018 that requires a 65% reduction in the landfilling of biodegradable MSW by 2030 with a binding landfill target to reduce landfill to a maximum of 10% of MSW. The WTE plants in Europe converted around 69 million tons of MSW (20% of the EU waste stream) generating 30 TWh of electricity and 55 TWh of heat. This is roughly equivalent to supplying the annual needs of 13 million inhabitants with electricity and 12 million inhabitants with heat in these countries. Given the EU’s directive on landfilling, estimates of new WTE facility construction ranges from 60 to 80 new plants by the end of 2020.

United States has currently 87 WTE plants in its 25 states, managing about 7% of the nation’s MSW or about 90,000 tons per day. This is equivalent to a baseload electrical generation capacity of approximately 2700 megawatts to meet the power needs of more than two million homes while servicing the waste disposal needs of more than 35 million people.

Japan is one of the most noteworthy sites to examine the remarkable Waste-to-Energy revolution. Since 1965, Japan has been disposing of municipal garbage through incineration and the country operates the world’s leading waste incineration facilities, with Tokyo’s Katsushika Waste Incineration Plant being the most noteworthy. Japan has been able to address its solid waste issue by processing about an estimated 70% of MSW in its WTE facilities.

China is the fourth largest user of WTE, after the EU, Japan, and the US. The Chinese WTE capacity has increased steadily from 14 million tons in 2007 to nearly 75 million tons by 2016. Despite the relatively high capital cost of WTE, the central government of China has been very proactive regarding increasing WTE capacity. One of the measures brought in provided a credit of about $30 per MWh of electricity generated by means of WTE rather than by using fossil fuel.

A new WTE plant in Addis Ababa (in Africa) is set to transform the site and revolutionize the entire city’s approach to dealing with waste. The plant, which has begun its operation in 2019, incinerates 1400 tons of waste every day, which is roughly 80% of the city’s MSW. Further, the plant supplies greater Addis Ababa with 30% of its household electricity needs and meeting EU standards on air emissions.


The percentage of waste treated in India through incineration is very low as compared to that of other countries. The efficacy of this solution (waste treatment process that results in energy recovery) needs to be explored in India.

According to a recent study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), nearly half of India’s WTE plants, meant to convert non-biodegradable waste, are defunct. Since 1987, 15 WTE plants have been set up across the country and seven of these plants have since shut down. The key reasons for closure are the plant’s inability to handle mixed solid waste and the high cost of electricity generated by them that renders it unattractive to power companies. Moreover, the existing plants are functioning at low capacity. The fundamental reason (for the inefficiency of existing plants) is the quality and composition of waste. MSW in India has low calorific value and high moisture content. As most wastes sent to the WTE plants are unsegregated, they also have high inert content. These wastes are not suitable to be treated in these plants. To treat them, additional fuel is required which makes these plants expensive to run and thus leads to inefficiency.

Functional WTE Plants in India


· There is a need to focus on segregation at source, spreading awareness, and preparing an action plan for the city for waste management by adopting decentralized technologies. This will not only enhance the effectiveness of WTEs but will also ensure protection and improvement of our environment as envisaged in Article 51 A(g) of our Constitution.

· Government should provide financial assistance such as subsidies to business units who are willing to set up and run WTE plants. Financial aid is very crucial as operating a WTE plant is a capital-intensive task.

India should promote WTE plants in order to obtain dual benefits – reduce dependence on fossil fuels by generating electricity from the waste and significantly ease the burden on landfills (most of which are already exhausted).


A Waste Project Database, 2020

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