Kids Ask the Darndest Environmental Questions: Why not burn it?

Today’s blog is part one in a series “Kids Ask the Darndest Environmental Questions!”  from our environmental educator extraordinaire, Erika Bjorkquist.Erika-team

During ILACSD’s “Put Waste in its Place” presentation, students learn about waste in San Diego. They are shocked to discover that Southern California leads the country in volume of trash disposed, and are excited to become part of the solution. Many students share ideas of reducing, recycling, and reusing, as solutions, to our trash problem, however, many don’t understand why people should practice these Rs. We challenge students to find ways to deal with our trash problem. One suggestion I frequently receive is, “Why don’t we just burn it?”

San Diegans dispose of 5lbs of waste per person per day!
San Diegans dispose of 5lbs of waste per person per day!

So why don’t we burn it? In the past few years, the debate of incineration v. burial has reached a high, sparked by the success of cities like Oslo, which actually imports trash to convert into fuel for things like heating. In San Diego, and most of the west, one of the main reasons why we don’t burn is economics – it is cheaper to bury than burn. This also why we are trailing other California cities in waste diversion programs like curbside compost; the cost of burying is much lower than building new infrastructure. There are, however, arguments against the economic viability, pointing to transportation costs of waste haulers. In addition, incineration provides less energy than what can be saved through recycling. Incineration plants also have a negative reputation when it comes to air quality. While regulations are in place to prevent pollution, people still do not want it in their backyard.

Waste incinerator
Waste incinerator

All in all, while there are plenty of ideas on how to dispose of our waste, the key is prevention. It is important to minimize the amount of trash individuals produce. By rethinking purchases, like choosing products with limited packaging, refusing unnecessary items like plastic bags for a candy bar, and being ready by having carrying reusable mugs and water bottles, you will make an impact in your neighborhood, city, and state.

waste incineration2
Waste incineration emissions

Learn more about how to reduce waste through recycling, reuse, and repair at!


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