I see these articles about landfills overflowing and waste being improperly dumped in our oceans. Why can’t we just burn all of the garbage and never have to deal with it again?
Burning it all is arguably much worse than having landfills. Burning random garbage will generate an assortment of toxic gases, and also a large amount of CO2.
Now some garbage is actually burnt in incineration plants, but those have filters and such to stop the worst of the resulting gases from getting into the atmosphere.
Because you don’t want to release the noxious fumes and gaseous byproducts into the atmosphere. Granted, landfills do already tend to produce a lot of methane and carbon dioxide as things break down. But if you were to burn the contents of a landfill, you’d risk putting even more noxious and dangerous chemicals and gasses into the atmosphere as different things burn and give off different byproducts.
Edit: I’m speaking more about why we haven’t. But we actually *can* with the infrastructure for it. I lived in Germany for a few years and the city I lived in actually burned waste trash for energy in a waste-to-energy facility. And in these facilities, they do filter and screen as much heavy pollutants from the escaping gases to reduce the impact on the atmosphere.
I actually really loved that because I knew if I was ever unsure about how to recycle something, I’d just put it into the waste trash and knew it would be incinerated for energy production. In Europe, this is more common, but not on the scale necessary to produce a significant amount of power. And in the US, this is much less common.
Toxic emissions. There are parts of the world where it is done safely. Where i live we have a waste to energy plant creating electricity from burned garbage. Epa restrictions held it up for quite some time but once the hurdles were cleared it went on line. Been working for 30 ish years now. The caveat is that some things cannot be burned (construction debris mostly) and landfills are still necessary.
We can, but it’s currently too expensive.
This is currently done in Singapore.
The exhaust from the incinerators is very nasty and requires extensive scrubbing before it can be released into the atmosphere. This part of the process is very expensive and cost prohibitive for most of the world.
Short answer – we *kind of can*. Plastic for example is just solid oil, and ounce for ounce burning plastic gives you the same amount of energy as burning oil. We do have powerplants that can generate electricity, or at least hot water, by burning trash.
The biggest problem is trash has all sorts of stuff you don’t want to burn. All sorts of nasty chemicals and materials go into the waste stream that it’s best to bury in a safe manner, burning them just makes nasty chemicals airborne where they can pollute the air or water supplies.