Seeing waste as an asset
The pursuit of sustainability represents one shift in the thinking around modern waste management practices. Another is that waste represents a source of assets from which to recover both materials and energy. This emphasis on recovery departs from the traditional “reduce, reuse, recycle and dispose” mantra chanted by waste management pundits .
“The first message for municipalities considering best practices for waste management is to transition from seeing discarded materials as a waste, a liability, toward recognizing each scrap as a potential asset to be recovered and returned to the marketplace,” says Michael Theroux, a resource recovery consultant and Council Advisor who advocates for clean conversion for recovery of energy and raw materials at his Teru Talk website.
This focus on broad recovery of waste stream components strives to shrink the volume of garbage that goes into problematic landfills and incinerators. But it’s also introducing the view that waste represents a revenue-generating resource. Cities now have the opportunity to sell their waste streams to companies that sort, divert and process refuse into products that have genuine market value.
Promoting sustainability: A SECOND LIFE FOR PLASTIC BOTTLES IN ROSTOCK
Germany is among the most advanced countries when it comes to recycling, and in the city of Rostock, Council member Veolia is converting one billion plastic bottles each year into granulate used to make new bottles. Once they are collected and transported to the processing center, the bottles are pre-sorted by color, with their caps and any residual waste removed,.
The bottles are then ground into flakes and subjected to a hot wash. Processing the flakes into food-grade is achieved by a mechanical-chemical recycling step. After being purified in a final step and packed into big bags, these PET flakes can be delivered to manufacturers of plastic bottles and manufactured into ”new” PET bottles.
Understanding the character of waste
For cities embarking on new waste management initiatives, experts advise that you first get to know your garbage. Municipalities must understand the nature of waste generation in their particular community, including what’s in it, where it’s coming from and how much of each type is present. “You cannot manage what you do not measure,” says waste consultant Theroux.
He advises that waste characterization studies include city demographic, land use and business data. The use of geographic information system data (GIS) can help plot physical location of waste generators, while useful analytical tools such as “cluster analysis” help city management understand where there are concentrations of large-volume generators of certain waste types.
Getting smart about waste management
Smart solutions are already working their way into the waste management arena. Navigant Research reports that smart waste management technologies now touch 43% of the global solid waste stream. And more convergence
is on the way. The research firm estimates that 644 million tons of waste was managed by smart waste technologies in 2014. This volume is expected to increase to 938.4 million tons by 2023.
Smart waste solutions generally fall in these four phases of waste management:
- Smart waste collection
- Smart material recovery
- Smart energy recovery
- Smart waste disposal