Beyond Incineration? Beyond Incineration? Representing Gasification for Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Treatment

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 16:20
Location: Hörsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Les LEVIDOW, Open University, United Kingdom
Paul UPHAM, Leuphana Universität, Germany
As a low-cost alternative to landfill, incineration has become the dominant technology for managing municipal solid waste (MSW) – and increasingly contentious.  Public controversy has opened up opportunities for better forms of energy-from-waste (EfW) conversion, especially advanced thermal treatment (ATT). This is promoted as cleaner and greener, offering better control over hazardous emissions and better energy recovery.   

This paper analyses how diverse UK stakeholders represent gasification in relation to incineration as options for waste-management, particularly in support policies of state agencies and in local authority procedures for waste-management tendering.  The analysis links two theoretical concepts: technological expectations becoming socially shared and thus mobilising resources (Borup et al., 2006, Konrad, 2006); and social representations whereby new ideas become anchored onto familiar frames of reference (Moscovici, 1984, 2000).   

Some stakeholders have conflated incineration and ATT – for divergent agendas.  NGO opponents have equated them in order to oppose the entire category for contradicting the waste-reduction hierarchy.  By contrast, some industrialists have emphasised recent improvements which make incineration an ATT or even superior to such ‘unproven technologies’. 

By contrast, other stakeholders converge in promoting gasification through a differential anchoring. They represent small-scale gasifiers as going beyond incineration – by avoiding or solving its problems (hazardous emissions and bottom ash, ‘feeding the beast’, venting surplus heat, etc.), while also matching its advantages (reliable operation and thus bankability).  Technological expectations, e.g. for more efficiently recovering energy and more flexibly replacing fossil fuels, have help to justify state support an early-stage demonstration gasifier, which later gained waste-management contracts with several local authorities.  The technology was promoted as ‘not incineration’, despite NGO criticism that ATT is ‘incineration in disguise’.  Depending on what representations become socially shared, the outcome will affect the prospects for justifying new waste-treatment plants and for moving facilities up the waste hierarchy.