Waste management – emergency or opportunity
By Accounting for Energy – (3 min read)
Think of the emergency services and, for most, waste management isn’t the first thing that springs to mind, even in New York, where the city’s sanitation workers are known as ‘New York’s strongest’. However, stop to think about life without a waste collection, and it’s not hard to imagine how quickly society as we know it might fall apart.
Without any formal collection in place, litter is just one of the more visible problems that arises, while vermin, disease, and fatal accidents threaten those living in surrounding areas. When you consider that one third of the world’s population lacks even a basic collection service, the scale of the problem becomes clear. Couple this with a shortage of infrastructure for processing waste, and it’s easy to see why effective waste management makes such a difference to a community.
Here in the UK, we tend to take our waste and recycling collections for granted. Recently, thanks to the BBC’s Blue Planet, and China’s National Sword programme – which effectively shut down trading routes for recycled materials – public attention has shifted, particularly onto plastics. Plastic-free aisles in supermarkets and talk of bans for plastic straws and cotton buds are just some of the initiatives under discussion.
A lot has been made of the fact that only a tiny fraction of marine litter comes from the UK, yet a recent report from the Global Warming Policy Foundation showed that things are not so clear cut. Apparently, while the UK happily ships its waste to Asia for recycling, as much as 20% may end up in the oceans. As other countries look to introduce their own National Sword-style legislation, WRAP has revealed that some plastics are now going to energy from waste and solid recovered fuel in Eastern Europe.
Despite the short-term uncertainty, this is a unique time to explore new opportunities and ways of working, and to assess current practices and bolster those that are working well. WasteAid UK is a UK charity that works in low-income countries to share knowledge that will help communities to use waste materials to economic advantage. This might involve setting up a small-scale recycling centre, making tiles from waste plastics, or building domestic anaerobic digestion systems for cooking food. All of these actions help to reduce waste in the environment and offer entrepreneurial opportunities for local people.
Meanwhile, closer to home, as we move away from landfill as a disposal option, historical landfills are making an important contribution to the country’s renewable energy mix. In 2017, landfill gas sites produced 4.07 TWh of green electricity – enough energy to power every household in Northern Ireland for over one year.
As we move forward, getting the right combination of technology and supporting initiatives will be key to producing a robust, ethical and profitable service; one which works to advantage all of the world’s 7.6 billion people, while safeguarding our planet and resources.
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