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Municipal solid waste incineration

In Switzerland all combustible waste that is not recycled must be incinerated in appropriate plants. The large majority of these materials end up in one of the country's 28 municipal solid waste (MSW) incinerators.

Since the introduction of the landfilling ban on 1 January 2000, all non-recycled combustible waste in Switzerland must be incinerated in appropriate plants. Since the Thun MSWI came on stream in 2004, a total incineration capacity of 3.29 million tonnes has been available in Switzerland. This is sufficient to allow the landfilling of combustible waste to be dispensed with altogether from now on.

Investigation sur la qualité du mâchefer de 7 usines suisses d'incinération de déchets

Combustible waste incinerated or placed in landfill

Combustible waste incinerated or placed in landfillnew window
Combustible waste incinerated or placed in landfill Combustible waste incinerated or placed in landfill
In 2000, 88% of the combustible waste – or 2.8 million tonnes – ended up in MSWIs, while the remaining 12% was landfilled in an untreated state. To check unused MSWI capacities in Switzerland, visit the website of the VBSA (association of managers and operators of Swiss waste management facilities) (French, German, Italian).
Incineration helps to reduce pollutant emissions and preserve resources. The volume of waste is reduced by 90% and its weight by 75%. However, the slag must be deposited in costly bioreactor or residual-waste landfills, since it contains environmentally damaging heavy metals.

Energy production in MSW

Energy production in MSWnew window
Energy production in MSW Energy production in MSW
A MSW incinerator with combined heat and power (CHP) can utilize up to 10% of the energy content of waste as electrical energy and, at the same time, well in excess of 40% as district heating. The total electricity production of all 28 Swiss MSW incinerators is sufficient to meet the energy requirements of at least 250,000 households. Moreover, the heat thus generated can replace imports of around 215,000 tonnes of oil derivatives a year for heat generation purposes. See the following tables and graphs on the production of energy from waste (German, French).

Emissions and air pollution

Large sums have been invested in recent years on improving the MSW incinerators, and especially on equipment to clean flue gases. All plants are fitted with electrostatic filters that trap fly ash and dust. Gaseous pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and hydrochloric acid are for the most part removed by means of gas scrubbers. Denitrification (DeNOx) equipment has also been in operation at all facilities since 2002. Consequently, the percentage of total nitrogen oxide emissions (part of the cocktail of pollutants that produce "summer smog") emanating from MSW incinerators fell from 3.1% in 1995 to 0.9% in 2000. A welcome corollary has been the reduction in emissions of highly toxic dioxins and furans throughout Switzerland to just a few grammes per year - i.e. less than one twentieth of levels prior to the installation of the DeNOx equipment.

Emissions and air pollutionnew window
Emissions and air pollution Emissions and air pollution
As far as the majority of pollutants are concerned, the incineration of waste therefore makes only a minimal contribution to air pollution in Switzerland. Exceptions to this rule are individual pollutants such as mercury or cadmium, emissions of which are in any case extremely low in Switzerland owing to the absence of heavy industry.

MSWI tour

Find out how a modern municipal solid waste incinerator works with an tour (offline version) of the Lucerne MSWI, showing the successive stages in the incineration process.  To take part in this tour, you will need the Macromedia Flash Plugin DOWNLOAD.

 ZIP
MSWI tour
11.09.2006 | 419 kB | ZIP


Contact: waste@bafu.admin.ch
Last updated on: 27.10.2009

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