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Recover

Definition

Recovery uses various technologies to convert waste material into usable forms of energy, including heat, fuel, or electricity.

Why recover?

Recovery, also known as “waste-to-energy” (WTE), is a residuals disposal option, not an alternative to waste prevention, reuse or recycling. Instead, recovery is an interim measure to deal with material left over after the other Rs are implemented. The long-term goal of zero-waste is to eliminate residuals from the waste stream through better product design and improved markets for recycled materials as well as reuse and reduction.

WTE facilities are common in Europe where space for landfills is at a premium. There, WTE goes hand in hand with strong recycling programs and targets. Two of the biggest users of WTE, the Netherlands and Germany, have diversion to recycling rates of approximately 50% and 87% respectively. 

Municipalities interested in pursuing WTE options need to consider several factors:

  • Generally, larger facilities are less costly on a per tonne basis. Any municipalities considering thermal treatment should consider partnering with neighbouring municipalities in order to build a large facility and obtain cost savings through economies of scale.
  • There are many companies aggressively marketing new technologies.  Municipalities should directly contact communities that have used the technologies to determine the real costs and benefits.
  • Many WTE companies require guaranteed feedstock volumes.  As recycling and composting systems advance and additional product stewardship programs are implemented, volumes of waste may go down. Municipalities need to be cautious to avoid becoming contractually obligated to provide a minimum volume of waste that exceeds overall waste generation after the other Rs are implemented.

For more information on waste-to-energy, please visit the Waste Management Hub - Resources for Municipal Waste Management