Waste-to-energy 

By Rebeccah Dowell, August 16th 2021

Due to an increase in public awareness around throw away culture and a rise in developing countries shipping waste back to their original nations, there appears to be a shift towards a circular economy; a circular economy is a model designed to minimise waste, emissions, and resource input.

Historically, in the UK we have become extremely dependent on landfill and over the past 25 years, new targets and strict emission standards have been created to power a new production of waste-to-energy methods.

Overseas waste management

Over recent years, an increase in waste has been shipped back from developing countries such as Malaysia and The Philippines. Typically, wealthier countries send their recyclable waste overseas to meet recycling targets, reduce domestic landfill and save money. However, developing countries are now shipping back waste due to contamination and falsely claimed materials and therefore it has become more apparent that changes are essential for a sustainable future.

Since January 2021, new laws have been put in place by the EU banning the shipment of unsorted plastic waste, yet the UK still has the ability to export waste under a new system in which the importer has to agree to accept and the prospect to refuse. In May 2021, campaigners have urged the UK government to ban the export of plastic waste by 2025.

Waste-to-energy

Focusing on environmental protection and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste-to-energy is an effective process of producing energy and turning waste into fuel, and is a method used to reduce shipping waste overseas.

What are the benefits?

Reduction of waste going to landfill

Landfill waste presents a significant environmental impact and due to a slow decomposition rate can take decades to breakdown on site and consequently produce harmful gasses. With this in mind, to help reduce land fill waste further, reusing recyclable goods such as clothing and furniture is essential.

Gasification

Gasification refers to the production of gas from waste. By breaking down everyday waste such as product packaging, furniture, and clothing, in a low oxygen environment at a high heat, synthetic gas is produced. The gas can therefore be used as an environmentally friendly source of energy to generate electricity and heat.

Carbon emissions generated from fossil fuels are reduced

Waste to energy facilities prevent the production of methane whilst generating 10 times more electricity from each ton of waste in comparison to landfills. The majority of processes including gasification and anaerobic digestion are organic and therefore turn into a source of energy which may have been once lost at landfill.

Financial advantages

Although there are still expenses surrounding the production of energy from waste, financial advantages are made from creating energy to sell on and reducing transportation of waste to landfill sites overseas.

Summary

Reflecting on the above points, waste-to-energy has become a favorable and sustainable waste management solution that produces power and reduces emissions. However, to continue to build on a more sustainable future, small life changes and alternative technologies will need to continue to develop.

 

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