How an incinerator works

You are here:

Waste incineration is an important part of modern waste management systems. This process burns waste materials to reduce their volume and generate electric power. While waste incineration has its critics, modern incinerators are far cleaner and more efficient than in years past.

What is Waste Incineration and Why Does it Matter?

Waste incineration refers to the burning of waste for disposal and energy recovery. It’s an alternative to sending waste materials like municipal solid waste, medical waste, and general waste to landfills. Incineration can reduce the volume of waste by up to 90% while also generating electricity, making it an essential part of sustainable waste management.

What Kinds of Waste Can Be Incinerated?

Many types of waste can be incinerated rather than landfilled. The most common waste for incinerators include:

  • Municipal solid waste, like household waste and food waste
  • Hazardous industrial waste, such as chemical and medical waste
  • Other high-volume waste streams, including construction debris

Proper sorting at the waste facility ensures only non-hazardous materials are fed into municipal incinerators. Hazardous waste incinerators have additional safety precautions for these materials.

What Are the Benefits of Waste Incineration?

Waste incineration, when done properly, offers three key benefits:

  1. It greatly reduces the volume of waste, decreasing the amount that must be landfilled. This saves landfill space and extends landfill lifetimes.
  2. Some models allow for energy recovery from waste. The heat from incineration can be used to produce steam to generate electricity, allowing waste plants to produce their own power.
  3. It sanitises medical waste prior to disposal. Medical waste incinerators allow for the safe, complete destruction of hazardous materials like needles, blood products and anatomical waste.

Parts of an Incinerator

Our incinerator components are designed to operate effectively in high-heat environments and withstand significant stress. All parts in our incinerators are selected for their durability and quality.

The key parts of our incinerators include:

Primary Chamber

This is where the waste is loaded and ignited. In most incinerators, the ignition occurs due to the high ambient temperatures being retained within the chamber lining.

Secondary Chamber

The secondary chamber is required by law in Europe, the USA, Australia and Canada as it prevents the formation of harmful particulates. In many countries, the law stipulates that flue gas must be resident in this secondary chamber for at least 2 seconds at 850°C or above.

Velocity Cowl

Most incinerators require a stack height of at least 3 metres. This will be higher in more built-up areas or where atmospheric conditions dictate. The design pushes gases high up into the air for wide dispersal.

Control Panel and Thermocouples

These control the operation of the machine and ensure the chambers are up to temperature before any waste is loaded for incineration. The settings can be completely customised to the operator’s requirements, depending on the waste type.


These are used to heat up the incinerator and are usually switched off during the combustion stage.

Fuel Tanks

As the name suggests, this is where the fuel is stored. The burners will have direct lines into the tank when the incinerator is in use.

i8-75 exploded view
incineration process

Incineration Process

Most waste streams will require some pre-preparation, but this can result in huge savings in the long term:

  • Sort – remove any high-value recyclable items for resale.
  • Shred – normalise the particle size and add air to mix.
  • Dry – we suggest a maximum of 30% moisture to ensure the best efficiency.
  • Determine batch size – optimise batch size to achieve the lowest costs in the lowest time.
  • De-ash – remove ash from the system ready for the next batch.
  • Spot check – ensure the chamber, burners and fuel lines are all in good condition.
  • Re-load – load chamber for next operation.

Conclusion on How Incinerators Work

Incineration is an integral part of modern waste management that enables sustainable disposal of waste while also recovering valuable energy. By burning waste at high temperatures, incinerators significantly reduce waste volumes as well as sanitise hazardous materials. 

While waste incineration has faced criticism in the past, advances in pollution control technology have dramatically reduced emissions from modern incinerators. When integrated with proper pre-processing techniques like sorting, shredding, and drying along with careful monitoring and maintenance, incineration allows waste management facilities to safely and sustainably handle a wide variety of waste.