If you have ever wondered where your trash ends up after it’s thrown away, the answer may surprise you. Landfills, mostly hidden away from our daily lives, are silently contributing to a global crisis. The sheer volume of landfills worldwide poses a significant threat to our environment and our health, just one of many complex challenges we are facing today as humans. Altru Institute is in the business of bringing insight to these complex issues, and highlighting emerging industries and technologies that are turning mountains of trash into breakthrough environmental solutions, and never-ending revenues .
A Mounting Crisis:
Landfills, seen as a quick fix for waste disposal for generations, have become an environmental concern too big to ignore. According to the World Bank, the world generates a staggering 2.01 billion metric tons of municipal solid waste annually, with only about 13.5% being recycled or composted. (Most of) the rest of that garbage finds its way to landfills, to then decompose andpollute air and groundwater with greenhouse gases and microplastics, to name just two of many toxic threats posed. Without a concerted systemic change to this out-dated and environmentally harmful industrial practice, we could in very real sense, drown in our own waste.
Scalable Solutions: A Beacon of Hope
Fortunately, there are a few remarkable examples of how this great environmental challenge can be met head-on, and also be seen as an opportunity:
- Waste-to-Energy Conversion:
In countries like Sweden and Denmark, where land scarcity is a challenge, waste-to-energy conversion has emerged as an efficient solution. Advanced incineration facilities utilize technologies like gasification and anaerobic digestion to convert non-recyclable waste into electricity and heat, reducing the volume of waste and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Residual ash is then safely managed. Swedenhas become so proficient at this process that it now imports waste from other countries to generate energy. This is another way of saying that Sweden has run out of garbage.
- Recycling Innovations:
PureCycle Technologies is a recycling company utilizing an innovative purification process to transform waste plastics into high-quality, virgin-like resins. Their patented technology removes impurities, colors, and odors from post-consumer and post-industrial plastics, and creates a recycled product that can be used in many distinct applications. By enabling the recycling of plastics that were previously considered unrecyclable, PureCycle aims to reduce plastic waste and promote a more sustainable and circular economy for plastic materials.
- Zero Waste Strategies:
The concept of “zero waste” is gaining traction globally, aiming to minimize waste generation and maximize recycling. San Francisco, California, stands as a notable example. Through stringent regulations and public education campaigns, the city has achieved an impressive 80% landfill diversion rate through recycling, composting, and use of reusable materials. The success of San Francisco’s zero waste initiatives has inspired numerous cities worldwide to follow suit.
- Landfill Mining:
While landfills pose a significant problem, they can be a reservoir of valuable resources. Landfill mining involves excavating old landfills to recover recyclable materials, such as metals, plastics, and organic matter. Belgium and the Netherlands have embraced this concept, to extract valuable resources while remediating the environmental impacts of long-time landfill sites. This innovative approach has the potential to turn waste-filled liabilities into profitable assets.
The global landfill crisis demands urgent action, and scalable solutions offer a glimmer of hope. From waste-to-energy conversion to recycling innovations, to zero waste strategies, to landfill mining, these initiatives are transforming how we manage waste, and provide a roadmap for a sustainable future. However, we can all play our part by advocating for innovative and ecological market solutions, responsible consumption, reducedwaste, and by supporting policies that promote these breakthrough solutions. Together, we can turn the problem of landfills into an opportunity for a cleaner, greener planet.
– World Bank: “What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050”
Categories: THE CLIMATE INVESTOR