This paper evaluates the two well-known final waste disposal methods, incineration and landfilling. In particular we compare the social cost of two best-available technologies using a point estimate based on private and environmental cost data for the Netherlands. Not only does our comparison allow for Waste-to-Energy incineration plants but for landfills as well. The data provide support for the widespread policy preference for incineration over landfilling only if the analysis is restricted to environmental costs alone and includes savings of both energy and material recovery. Gross private costs, however, are so much higher for incineration, that landfilling is the social cost minimizing option at the margin even in a densely populated country such as the Netherlands. Furthermore, we show that our result generalizes to other European countries and probably to the USA. Implications for waste policy are discussed as well. Proper treatment of and energy recovery from landfills seem to be the most important targets for waste policy. Finally, WTE plants are a very expensive way to save on climate change emissions.

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Ecological Economics
Erasmus School of Economics

Dijkgraaf, E., & Vollebergh, H. (2004). Burn or bury? A social cost comparison of final waste disposal methods. Ecological Economics, 50(3-4), 233–247. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2004.03.029