Let's talk about it

Can plastic keep us warm?

What happens to plastic at the end of its life? Where does it travel after it’s been discarded into a yellow bin? Can used plastic still bring value?

In the Czech Republic, up to 40% of plastic waste ends up in a landfill. Landfills are the oldest solution for “eradicating” our leftovers. It’s a very simple technology- even our ancient ancestors used to gather waste in one location, perhaps bury it underground.

Though landfill technology has undoubtedly evolved and developed since prehistoric times, its principle remains the same. And despite the fact that they’ve been around for a very long time, the future of landfills doesn’t look too bright. Understanding that putting waste into landfills does not offer any added value, and even actively harms the environment, has resulted in many developed countries are gradually ridding themselves of this technological relict. In some European countries, such as Germany or Sweden, landfills have been forbidden for several years already. The trend has also caught on in Czech Republic and, as of 2030, the same legal regulation should go into effect here.

But what will we do with the waste we normally put into landfills once we get abolish these “deposit sites”?

My internal idealist would say that we will dramatically decrease waste production and the tiny bit of waste we do produce will be recycled. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be that easy.

Ever-growing population numbers and consumer behavior suggest that the volume of waste will continue to grow and recycling on its own won’t save us. The recycling process itself requires significant resources, such as water, energy and money. It therefore only makes sense to recycle materials that will still bring us high-quality value on the other side. What then is the best way to liquidate hard to recycle materials and still gain value from the process?

Let us return to the already mentioned plastic products. There is a reason plastic has become omnipresent. This material offers many advantages – it is light and resilient and its production is both resource and cost effective. But plastic is hiding one more secret in that it carries significant energy within its chemical bonds. And that’s exactly the value that dirty, low-quality, degraded plastic waste still has to offer. 

We use energy nearly every single day, whether it’s to heat water for our morning shower, make a cup of coffee or to wash our hands. Doing laundry often requires hot water. Moreover, we appreciate the ability to heat our homes during winter months. But before we can use it, all of this energy has to be created. One place where it gets made is the Malešice Waste to Energy plant- a facility which creates energy from waste. Sometimes it’s also called an incineration plant, though, for many, this term carries a negative connotation and as a result, they may associate it with an outdated facility that only destroys our air. Nevertheless, the reality is a bit different.

Michael Londesborough invited the director of ZEVO Malešice Aleš Bláha to “Let’s Talk About It” to get the facts.

What benefits does incineration offer when compared with putting waste into landfill? Is it safe to incinerate plastic material? Can Waste to Energy plants represent a valuable segment of a circular economy? And what about the associated costs?

Watch the latest episode of “Let’s talk about it” to get the answers to (not just) these questions.