If you have to have waste, do you know the least environmentally harmful solution for it?
Whilst waste management isn’t the focus at COP26, we cannot deny the impact that waste has on our planet. The world generates 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste annually, with this expecting to reach 3.40 billion tonnes by 2050. Unfortunately, 33% of waste generated is not managed in an environmentally safe manner- and that is a conservative estimation.
As a result, more and more, companies have a mission of Zero Waste to Landfill. While this is admirable, is it not necessarily always the best thing for the environment. We shall explore this in two parts, firstly with organic waste, and then with inorganic waste.
Looking at organic waste alone, 30% of the food we produce is wasted. That is approximately 1.8 billion tonnes in a year. If the world stops wasting food altogether, we can eliminate 8% of total GHG emissions.
Organic waste usually represents a significant portion of what is not recycled. Also, when this waste enters a landfill, it degrades anaerobically and produces methane gas, which has a global warming potential of at least 25 times that of CO2 (Read: Are you fighting food waste or fuelling the climate crisis?)
Composting is a carbon positive activity, meaning that it actually sinks carbon. Anaerobic digestion, by comparison, has a carbon saving of about 8% and combustion will have a carbon saving of about 26% compared to disposal in landfill. The best thing to do with organic waste is then definitely to compost it if possible.
For inorganic waste, there have been fewer alternatives. Incineration, with or without energy recovery has almost no impact on the carbon impact, compared with disposal to landfill. There have been some advances in recent years within this space where the inorganics are combined with polymers to make pavers or construction material. Depending on whether the polymer is recycled or new, will determine whether there is an actual carbon savings or not. In many cases, the production of these is more carbon intensive than sending the waste for safe disposal in a landfill.
In such cases, it is always best to ask the question as to whether the Zero Waste to Landfill target achievement is worth the bigger carbon footprint and cost to the environment.
Do you want a holistic solution for your waste?
Don’t Waste has the solution. From our decades of experience within the waste industry, we follow a scientific approach to solution development, always keeping the waste hierarchy at the forefront of our research and innovations, and aligning it with our client’s goals and long-term strategic vision.
We believe that our client’s journey to sustainability is ours. Don’t Waste Time, start your journey today.
Linus Naik: Group Sustainability and Business Development Manager ()