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Quotes on Incineration

2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Quote from "Earth In The Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit" - Author Al Gore (Author of "An Inconvenient Truth")

"The latest scheme masquerading as a rational and responsible alternative to landfills is a nationwide – and worldwide – move to drastically increase the use of incineration… The principal consequence of incineration is thus the transporting of the community’s garbage – in gaseous form, through the air – to neighbouring communities, across state lines, and indeed, to the atmosphere of the entire globe, where it will linger for many years to come. In effect, we have discovered yet another group of powerless people upon whom we can dump the consequences of our own waste; those who live in the future and cannot hold us accountable."


“Incineration may or may not turn out to be an appropriate technology for Ontario, but this determination should only be made once an overarching waste management policy for the province is put into place. Waste management must be lead by policy, not technology. Municipalities deserve strong provincial direction and should demand, along with other key stakeholders, a strong and comprehensive waste management strategy and regulatory framework, with funding to support that strategy … The Europe example is valuable to Ontario not because incineration is widely used but because it is used within a comprehensive waste management framework.”



 "Most modern incineration technologies designed to reduce air pollution simply move the toxics to the ash. As the air emissions get cleaner, the ash gets more toxic and the ash is rarely handled in the strictly controlled manner it should be…Ironically, if specially designed landfills were built to handle the ash, they would drastically increase the cost of incineration while only delaying the environmental impact of toxic ash..”

 “… Neither high temperatures nor pollution control equipment can make incinerators safe.”  

“For every ton of material destroyed by incinerator, many more tons of raw materials must be mined, extracted, processed or distributed to manufacture a new product to take its place. More trees must be cut down to make paper. More ore must be mined for metal production. More petroleum must be processed into plastics. The environmental cost of landfilling and incineration become magnified when the environmental costs of extracting virgin materials and producing goods in the first place are taken into account.”


Needleman, H. 2001. As cited by Dr. Philip Landrigan, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, keynote address to Children’s Environmental Health II: A Global Forum for Action. Washington, D.C. September, 2001.

"Children today live in a very different environment from years ago. There are new patterns of illness emerging, and many more chemicals to which children are exposed. More than 10 million products contain chemicals. Toxicity testing has not even begun to keep pace with disease. We are conducting a vast toxicological experiment on our children which will affect generations to come."




Kathleen Cooper is a senior researcher for the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and co-author of Environmental Standard Setting and Children's Health, a joint report of CELA and the Ontario College of Family Physicians Environmental Health Committee. She has also researched and authored a number of other articles and studies including Toxic Substances - Focus on Children - Developing a Canadian List of Substances of Concern to Children’s Health.

 “Industries and governments seem reasonable when they assure the public that proper regulation will be based upon solid scientific evidence. But the lack of solidly conclusive evidence is also the justification used for refusing to act where hazards are likely. When the evidence is merely worrisome, indicative and plausible, advocates of more anticipatory and precautionary regulations to prevent harm -- advocates of wide margins of safety, the use of safer alternatives, or the banning of inherently toxic substances -- are dismissed as emotional and lacking in scientific integrity.”

“For the most part, what we know about how these substances affect our children's health, and even what we have the capacity to find out, is dwarfed by the immensity of our ignorance. The surface has only been scratched in our understanding of just how detrimental toxic environmental exposures during childhood can be to lifelong health. Less than ten percent of the tens of thousands of chemicals in commercial use have been evaluated for developmental toxicity. Yet, exposure continues. And despite our ignorance, there are clear indications that children's health is at risk and in some cases is being measurably compromised by environmental factors.”


Authors of The Health Effects of Waste Incinerators, 4th Report of the British Society for Ecological Medicine

“There are now alternative methods of dealing with waste which would avoid the main health hazards of incineration, would produce [or save] more energy and would be far cheaper in real terms, if the health costs were taken into account.”

“Monitoring of incinerators has been unsatisfactory in the lack of rigor, the infrequency of monitoring, the small number of compounds measured, the levels deemed acceptable, and the absence of biological monitoring. Approval of new installations has depended on modelling data, [which are] supposed to be scientific measures of safety, even though the method used has no more than 30% accuracy and ignores the important problem of secondary particulates.”

 “Further problems are that many pollutants have no safe thresholds so there can be no safe level. Indeed some pollutants are more dangerous at low concentrations than high. In fact, it is impossible to assess risk when the toxic effects of 88-90% of chemicals and pollutants are unknown, particularly in relationship to birth and developmental defects. This type of assessment contains a value judgment about what is an acceptable level of risk. For instance what is an acceptable number of birth defects and who is it acceptable to?”

 “Risk assessment usually involves ‘modelling’ – which uses an estimation of exposure data, rather than actual exposure data, to assess the impacts of pollutants and their likely distribution. These reports are typically produced by the polluter. Unfortunately modelling has a 30% confidence level – this means this technique has only a 30% chance of accurately predicting the ground level concentrations of

pollutants - in other words less accurate than tossing a coin. Different models give very different results.”

“…it is of considerable concern that incinerators have been introduced without a comprehensive system to study their health effects and further incinerators are being planned without comprehensive monitoring of either emissions or the health of the local population.”



“We believe that incineration will never play a major role in truly sustainable waste management.” [Emphasis theirs.]



“Mass burn incineration should not be considered a replacement for landfill. We do not want to move from one form of dependency to another. We need to be more innovative than that.”



“The proponents of incinerators claim the new breed of incinerators are not problem polluters. But the industry’s own data prove the contrary. Modern incinerators emit mercury at a rate five times higher per unit of electricity generated by coal, and greenhouse gases at a rate substantially higher than coal-fired or natural gas-fired plants…

 “But this argument [that burning waste is an energy source] fails to recognize that burning garbage is a very inefficient way to generate energy. Indeed a waste incinerator generates substantially less energy that would be gained by recycling those materials instead of burning them. For example, recycling plastics conserves 10 to 25 times more the energy [than] generated by burning plastics.”


Dr. and Professor Ludwig Kraemer, Head of the European Union Waste Management Directorate:

 “Once they are built we are talking about creating waste streams for the next 25 years to keep the incinerators going.”


Source: Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (2005). A Strategy for Sustainable Waste Management: Sweden’s Waste Plan. 

“There is one proviso attached to the view of low environmental impact. The precautionary principle dictates that particular attention be paid to assessing the long-term risks of emissions of organic pollutants. There are gaps in our knowledge of the content and impact of these pollutants. Available data should be improved by research and collation of existing information.”

 “Because of the large number of hazardous substances that have been, and still are, handled, waste management continues to constitute a major environmental risk. We still know little about some of the long-term risks and effects of diffuse emissions of hazardous substances from waste handling.”

 In 2004, Sweden’s 29 incinerators produced emissions made up of 1,707 tons of nitrogen oxide, 337 tons of sulphur, 24 tons of particulates, 101 tons of hydrogen chloride, 37 kg of mercury, 5 kg of cadmium, 54 kg of lead and .7 grams per year of dioxins.  

If we do the math and divide these numbers by 29 (the number of incinerators in Sweden) we get a rough idea of how much pollution comes from one incinerator: 58 tons of nitrogen oxide, 11.5 tons of sulphur, .82 tons of particulates, 3.5 tons of hydrogen chloride, 1.3 kg of mercury, .17 kg of cadmium, 1.8 kg of lead and .024 grams of dioxins.

“In Sweden the national environmental quality objective A Good Built Environment works in the direction of more recycling of materials. The previous government decided on a tax on the combustion of household waste that entered into force on 1 July 2006 in order to increase the recycling of materials. Sweden has also introduced a ban on the landfill disposal of combustible waste and organic waste. Moreover, in 1994 producer responsibility was introduced for packaging and recycled paper in order to promote environmental design and disposal, chiefly through the recycling of these products. There is also producer responsibility for cars (1998) and electronics (2001). In addition, there are reuse systems with deposits for beverage packaging so as to promote packaging return and recycling.”



 “Advances in the collection of solid waste and recyclables are only one piece of recycling’s economic success. Recycling has also made a vital contribution to job creation and economic development. Recycling creates or expands businesses that collect, process and broker recovered materials as well as companies that manufacture and distribute products made with recovered materials.  Numerous studies have documented the billions of dollars invested and the thousands of jobs created by recycling.”




 “Once again, it can be hard to demonstrate [the effects of persistent organic pollutants on health] beyond challenge. But unless precautionary action is taken to curtail these chemicals, millions of people – not to mention millions of other creatures ranging from lake trout to pigeons – are likely to suffer irreparable harm….

In court, a person is innocent until proven guilty. Chemicals suspected of bio-accumulating, persisting in the environment, and harming human beings and animals do not deserve that kind of protection.”


1. Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Sierra Legal Senior Staff Scientist

Incineration is simply not the solution to Ontario’s waste issues. The province says it wants to stop burning coal because it is a dirty source of energy, but at the same time it is promoting an even dirtier, much less reliable source – garbage.” Source

"Even new incineration technologies have proven to be expensive, are a major source of pollutants such as greenhouse gases, and would undermine already established recycling efforts such as the Blue Box program. Ontarians should be consulted on whether they would rather have massive incinerators or Blue Boxes in their communities." Source

2. Dr. Anastasia Lintner, Sierra Legal Lawyer and Economist

“…incinerators produce 33% more greenhouse gases per unit of energy than coal-fired power plants. Recycling and reuse of waste can save more than 25 times the energy recovered by incineration." Source

NOTE: Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal)

3. Dr. Mark S. Winfield, Pembina Institute Director of Environmental Governance

"Attempts to produce electricity and heat from the incineration of municipal wastes make little sense as an energy strategy. Recycling programs are a far more effective way of recovering the energy contained in paper, food and yard wastes, plastics and other components of the waste stream. Even widespread attempts to generate electricity from the incineration of municipal wastes would only make a small contribution to the province's energy needs." Source

4. Clarissa Morawski, CM Consulting, Peterborough, Ontario

(CM CONSULTING provides research, analysis, communications and strategic planning services in the area of waste minimization. Working with industry and government, CM Consulting brings over ten years of technical, analytical and communications experience in waste minimization policy, compliance and operations. Principal, Clarissa Morawski, specializes in product and packaging stewardship programs. Clarissa has also written over twenty articles on this area of public policy for various industry publications. CM Consulting maintains an informal team of partners - graphic designers, technical analysts, web specialists, communication experts, and lobbyists. As such, CM Consulting has the ability to provide high-quality, multi-faceted deliverables in an efficient manner efficient manner.)

“And finally – even if you dispute the health risks from thermal treatment plants – an important issue to ratepayers is that incineration is extremely expensive and relies heavily on electricity sales revenue (not guaranteed) to offset the high capital and operating costs. Expensive but necessary pollution abatement equipment, daily operations, natural gas imports to support the process, landfilling costs for the residual ash, and hazardous fly ash all contribute to the big bill associated with thermal treatment.”  Source

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