Waste Accumulation Problems and Opportunities

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by Zoltan Kish, Ph.D., Quasar ScienceTech

An incredible amount of waste is produced in Canada and around the world. Humans are dumping 2.12 billion tons of garbage every year and polluting the oceans, land, and air.  Consequently, we need sustainable and effective waste management to protect our environment and save our world.

In 2016, the Ontario government released its Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario, diverting our wasteful ways towards an entirely circular economy.  The proposed strategy requires appropriate tools and an innovative approach to solving the tremendous waste accumulation problem.

The urgency for made-in-Canada solutions for waste management has sped up with the fact that China severely restricts the types of recyclables it accepts.  Prior to the plastic waste restrictions instituted in December 2017, China was the home to 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste since 1992.

Under the new circumstance, some municipal governments could get out of the recycling business altogether, and the recycled waste will end up in the landfills and the energy in waste is mostly lost.  Landfilling plastics would severely lessen the landfill capacity in Canada, already a growing concern as chronicled by Fraser Institute, the Ontario Waste Management Association, and others.

Canadian Solutions

We need more effective and sustainable ways to manage the produced waste.  Government in Canada should implement appropriate tools for the waste management challenge.  One tool would be the encouragement of using waste as a resource.  One person’s trash can be another person’s treasure.  For example, depending on the waste plastic composition and level of contaminations, the plastic feedstock could be effectively converted into high-value products through pyrolysis and waste steam gasification technologies.

If the plastic feedstock is clean and has an appropriate composition, pyrolysis (heating in the absence of oxygen) can be applied to depolymerize plastic and convert it mostly into liquid fuel.  The steam gasification reformation technology is more suitable for contaminated plastic waste conversion into high energy value syngas and hydrogen.  Additionally, syngas can be converted into liquid fuels and green chemicals using Gas-to Liquid catalytic process.

The use of advanced and effective waste-to-energy (WTE) technology applications in combination with a reliable scrubbing/cleaning system can provide a solution for biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste disposal, clean energy production, and sustainable product regeneration. The waste, potentially, can be converted into various forms of clean energy products, such as electricity, hydrogen, liquid synthetic fuels, and “green” chemicals.

Waste can be a cost-effective and environmentally-sound feedstock in the generation of clean energy, replacing a portion of fossil fuels.

High quality liquid synthetic fuels, without sulfur contamination, can be produced from waste materials by a combination of a Waste-to-Gas technology with a Gas-to-Liquids technology based on the Fischer–Tropsch catalytic process.

Regrettably, mass burn incineration has been often considered as a WTE technology to process waste for an astonishing cost and relatively minimal energy production.  For example, a new mass burn incinerator was built in York and North Yorkshire in the United Kingdom at a cost of £1.4 billion ($2.4 billion Cdn.)  The incinerator will divert more than 230,000 tonnes of household waste but will produce only 24 MW of power.

Allerton Waste Recovery Park, North Yorkshire, United Kingdom

Another example of an enormous and costly incineration facility is the one planed in Hong Kong. The incinerator will cost $4 billion and process 3000 tonnes of waste per day (1,050,000 tonnes/year).  The total amount of energy the facility will produce per year is 489 million kWh/year of energy, which is equivalent to 57 MW of power.

In my professional opinion, incineration is a very costly and inefficient way for waste conversion into electricity.  The highly pollutants generated from incineration require very expensive air pollution controls.

In a circular economy, advanced emerging waste conversion technologies (e.g., Waste-to-Energy, Waste-to-Gas, and Gas-to-Liquids technologies) can play a pivotal role in waste disposal.  Efficient waste conversion technology applications can be a path to a working circular economy. Recycling is not only based on simple reusing the waste products.

The purpose of recycling is to redesign and convert waste into forms retaining as high value as possible in a circular economy. Contaminated waste products are challenging to recycle and reuse. Garbage can be converted into high-value products through mechanical/physical, thermochemical, and biochemical processes. The waste can be transformed into various forms of sustainable and clean energy products utilizing effective waste conversion technologies in the circular economy.

The increasing amount of waste is one of the most challenging problems facing the world, which creates global environmental challenges. Contaminated waste products (e.g., plastic, paper, diapers, medical waste, waste biomass, and industrial byproducts) are challenging to recycle and reuse in the traditional way.  Therefore, we have an urgent requirement to deal with the tremendous waste accumulation.  At the same time, we have a tremendous business opportunity to convert waste into usable sustainable products.

The circular economy can be based on efficient waste conversion technologies, such as traditional gasification, steam gasification, pyrolysis, and anaerobic digestion.  Mostly, the steam gasification reformation of waste is more efficient and cost-effective than other thermo-chemical and bio-chemical technologies and able to convert both biodegradable and non-biodegradable carbonaceous waste contents into higher value clean/renewable energy products.

 

It is essential that sustainable waste management become an integral part of urban development. With the right approach, we could have a comprehensive and cost-effective solution for waste disposal, clean energy production, and sustainable product regeneration as a combination of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste processing.

 About the Author

Dr. Zoltan Kish has a Ph.D. in Chemistry with over 25 years of diverse industrial and academic experience and contributed to more than 70 scientific publications. He has developed and managed complex research and development programs related to alternative/renewable energy, clean technologies, GHG, sustainability, and advanced materials applications, such as solar energy technology, ceramic engine & cutting tool components, materials processing, and electronics. Dr. Kish was the Director of Research & Development at two major Canadian alternative energy companies where he focused on R&D and commercialization of unique Waste-to-Energy technologies and reliable scrubbing/ cleaning systems to produce clean and sustainable energy products. In response to global environmental challenges and the need for scientific evaluations of new technologies and advanced materials applications, he has established a consulting company – Quasar ScienceTech (www.quasarsciencetech.com) to provide multidisciplinary science and technology consulting in the areas of Natural & Applied Sciences, Clean Technologies & Energy, Waste Conversion, Technical Due Diligence, Climate Change Mitigation, Circular Economy, Sustainability, Innovation, and Advanced Materials Applications.

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