Four bright young minds in Thane, Mumbai, have come up with an idea to use dry waste to generate electricity. Instead of dumping dry waste into a garbage bin and filling up landfills, this novel idea makes use of domestic waste that every household in India produces, and turns it into a sustainable form of energy. And it can prevent mishaps like the Deonar dumping ground fires, too.
Aged between 10 and 13, the girls have devised an instrument with two parts that converts dry waste into electricity.
The bottom part of the instrument burns dry waste. The heat generated from this is used to move the turbines attached in the top-most part of the furnace. These turbines help in creating electricity.
The girls, Pooja Ramdas, Nikita Dhamapurkar, Jovila D’souza and Sharanya Bhamble spent two weeks figuring out the minute details, researching and experimenting. They were inspired by the working of a pressure cooker.
Sharanya Bhamble explains the eco-friendly process: it starts off with segregating dry and wet waste. While the dry waste is burnt in the furnace, the wet waste is used for composting.
“The toxic fumes produced in the process (of burning dry waste) are filtered, making it pure and released in the environment,” she said. “Meanwhile, we put seawater in the top part of the two-part-furnace, which turns into steam when the waste is burning. This steam is then released on a set of turbines which rotate and produce electricity in the process.”
To test the device, the girls used a cycle pump to create air pressure. This generated enough electricity to light up the bulbs that were fixed to the device.
In Mumbai, about two-thirds of its solid waste that is dumped into landfills is illegal and beyond the capacity of the landfill.
Repeated dumping, with no waste segregation, caused the massive Deonar fires in the months of January and February this year. Smoke from these fires covered the areas surrounding the dumping ground, forcing schools and colleges to shut, and people to fall ill.
Most of the waste that ends up in landfills are actually biodegradable or fit to be converted into energy. With waste segregation and municipal body support, sustainable waste management isn’t difficult.
While on a macro-level, the municipal solid waste-to-energy process requires installation of biogas plants, on an individual level, devices such as the one invented by the students can help reduce the negative impact on the environment.
Only 3.3% of SA’s urban population regularly recycles, choosing instead to dump everything and leave it to the bin pickers, writes Georgina Crouth.
Only 3.3 percent of South Africa’s urban population regularly recycles, choosing instead to dump everything in a general bin and leaving it to the bin pickers
In our consumerist, throw-away society, we buy products, use them and discard them without giving it a second thought until the bin pickers arrive on garbage collection day. We complain about litter and pollution in our cities, but don’t give limited landfill space a second thought.
According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa generated 108 million tons of waste in 2011, with 98 million tons of that going to landfills. A study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) found we generated 19 million tons of municipal waste, of which a quarter included glass, paper, tins and plastic. Much of the country’s current recycling activity is focused on paper and packaging waste (paper, plastic, glass, tins), and we’re doing a pretty good job currently with that, recycling around 52 percent.
Yet this is a relatively small component of the recyclable waste streams. A large proportion (about 30 to 40 percent) is organic waste and building rubble – both problematic waste streams in terms of illegal dumping but with potential for recycling, yet we don’t currently do enough with these.
Gauteng contributes 45 percent of the municipal waste and they’re filling up quickly. Only a few of the province’s landfills will still be around in 10 years. Cape Town, which contributes 70 percent of the municipal waste in the Western Cape, is also running out of landfill space.
Pikitup chief executive Amanda Nair was recently quoted as saying it costs R1 billion to build a new landfill, which takes into account engineering, lining, drainage and road networks.
As much as 65 percent of the general waste that we generate could be recycled, yet we only currently recycle about 10 percent of our waste (as at 2011). This despite the fact that recycling not only saves landfill space, but can also reduce environmental impacts caused by waste, such as reducing carbon emissions. Recycling also creates jobs.
As Wilma Strydom, a researcher at the CSIR, explained in a 2010 study about post-consumer recycling behaviour in South Africa: “It is alarming that two-thirds of the more than 2 000 urban South African households surveyed do not know where to dispose of their household recyclables.
“Furthermore, the majority of the participants in the study said that they do not know how nor what to recycle.”
This survey found more than 73 percent of people living in urban areas do not recycle at all. About 27 percent of urban South Africans recycle a little and only 3.3 percent sort their recyclables from their household waste and recycle it on a frequent basis.
While the CSIR is currently finalising last year’s “recycling behaviour” survey to gauge whether household recycling has improved over the past five years, the 2010 survey highlighted poor attitudes towards recycling. Some of the reasons given by South Africans as to why they don’t recycle include a lack of space and time, it’s a dirty job, they don’t know what can be recycled, and recycling facilities are often inconvenient.
One positive initiative is from the glass industry body, The Glass Recycling Company, a private sector initiative that works with the Department of Environmental Affairs. Glass recycling rates have increased dramatically since 2005 due to the work of the initiative. Their statistics show glass recycling stood at 18 percent in 2005, rising to 40.9 percent in 2014 (latest stats only out in May). Today, all new glass produced in South Africa consists of at least 40 percent recycled content.
Their success is attributed to their public awareness campaigns, especially on radio, their installation of glass banks in suburbs to make recycling convenient, and assistance they offer to recycling entrepreneurs. Their contribution to glass collection infrastructure has been vital, providing collectors with large volume bags, gloves, goggles and scales as well as drop-off facilities where they can sell the glass.
Another hugely successful industry initiative is the plastics body Petco – it has done even better than glass recycling, seeing an increase from 16 percent in 2005 to 49 percent in 2014.
The CSIR’s 2010 survey results indicate people are more likely to recycle and continue to do so if it is convenient.
“The results show that a two-bag system – simply separating dry waste from wet waste like food scraps – combined with a regular kerbside collection service, would create the best opportunity to mobilise South Africans to start recycling,” Strydom said.
With landfill space running out, the solution is obvious: people need to reduce the amount of waste they produce and start recycling.
Professor Linda Godfrey, principal scientist in the CSIR’s pollution and waste department, said while household recycling rates were low, the country doesn’t fare badly by global standards when it comes to the recycling of paper and packaging waste.
But mindsets need to be changed because it’s generally not the consumer contributing towards this recycling: we rely on others to do this work. “Our very active informal sector recovers recyclables by sorting through bins at the kerbside, or at landfill. An estimated 80.9 percent of the packaging waste that we currently recycle is collected by the informal sector.”
The South African Waste Pickers’ Association estimates there are about 60 000 waste pickers in the country who are making a living from recycling while also providing this service.
“Improved consumer awareness would benefit South Africa, both in terms of reducing littering, which is a major problem and requires that municipalities spend a considerable percentage of their budgets clearing up litter and illegal dumping, but also by increasing household recycling, thereby supporting secondary resources economy, including job creation,” Godfrey says.
It starts with individuals: people must stop littering and dumping, recycle as much as they can in the home and think about what they’re buying.
Godfrey concludes: “There is an opportunity to educate consumers on ‘what’ they buy, in an attempt to drive sustainability and the circular economy agenda, and to reduce consumption. It’s about making smarter choices when buying products, (basing our) choices not only on price, but on issues such as packing type, and quantity. It’s about creating environmentally conscious consumers who understand the impact of their decisions.”
Wise up. Here’s how
Metals: beverage cans, food tins, metal lids, aluminium foil, paint, sheet metal, metal toys, oil and aerosol cans.
Glass: all glass except drinking glasses and light bulbs (some retailers have special bins for light bulbs and batteries, which should not go into general waste).
Paper: except for laminated/plasticised or waxy paper. Most plastics, including cling film (check for a recycling logo).
These cannot be recycled: pyrex, tableware (unless you put them to creative use in mosaics), ordinary batteries, light bulbs, medicines, crystal, spectacles, windowpane glass, windshields and mirrors.
Separate at home: recyclables must be separated from general waste.
Get everyone involved as it teaches children to be conscious about consumption and to care for the environment.
Use bins, bags or other containers to separate the following: glass, plastic, cans and metal, paper and general waste (not for recycling).
If you have a compost heap, use it for vegetable peels, table scraps, egg shells and suitable organic material.
Do not compost meat, bones or fish scraps (they will attract pests), weeds or diseased plants.
Pet manure, banana peels and orange rinds are unsuitable for composting.
What to do: separate your rubbish into special bins or bags and either leave them on the pavement or take them to collection points or municipal drop-off sites or buy-back centres.
You can also organise a collection service to pick up your waste from your home or office.
E-Waste: electronic waste is a growing problem and the goods should never be thrown into general waste. Most municipal sites have e-waste facilities.
In Cape Town, Clearer Conscience collects in the City Bowl, Atlantic seaboard and southern suburbs.
You can have your recyclables collected once a month or twice a week.
They also take clothes, plants, e-waste and green waste by prior arrangement.
Recycle 1st is a new business collecting recyclables from homes and businesses in Cape Town’s northern suburbs. Collections are twice a month.
There are 200 million tons of plastic in use today, volumes of which will eventually end up in the waste streams harming sea life, devouring landfill space, and gumming up recyclers’ equipment. While the push to properly recycle plastics is high, so is the trend to re-engineer the products so they are compostable, and overall safer for the environment — especially as municipalities reach for zero waste goals.
“Compostable products help to make sorting easier for consumers, and are designed to break down in professionally managed composting facilities,” said Rhodes Yepsen, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). And compostable plastics, made from plants rather than oil, have the power to reduce fossil fuel dependence, foster sustainability, and cut food waste in landfills.
But there’s confusion about which products are truly compostable, and even doubt about what “compostable” means. Compostable plastics, also known as bioplastics, present other challenges too.
Organizations like the one Yepsen leads are working with plastics manufacturers, composters, and other stakeholders to address the issues, starting with clearly defining “compostable,” then helping to design products that work for manufacturers, consumers, and processors.
What is compostable?
For a product — plastic or any other — to be compostable, it must have three features.
“It must disintegrate. It must biodegrade, meaning microorganisms will eat it and process it. And it needs to leave behind no toxic remnants,” said Sarah Martinez, sustainability maven of Eco-Products, one of several companies that sells compostable plastic products. Their clients are from the food industry and their supplier is NatureWorks, which makes corn-based plastic pellets that are converted to the company’s lines — cold beverage cups, clam shells (hinged to-go boxes), sushi containers, cutlery, and cups with polylactic acid (PLA) lining, among others.
Industry standards lack teeth
“Almost anything is biodegradable over very extended time. Compostability says the product is biodegrading in a certain time frame and that what’s left over is healthy,” said Martinez.
There are industry standards to define compostability, but no laws to enforce them. Among resulting challenges is inconsistent decomposition rates from product to product, which can impede commercial composting operations. However this label issue has not gotten by the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). The organization notes that some biodegradable plastics can be recycled with organic wastes, but heeds warning that they can lead to contamination in other plastic recycling streams.
Therefore, “Managers for food scrap collection programs need to ensure they are only using certified compostable products, which have been independently tested and third-party verified,” said Yepsen, forewarning that when potentially problematic biodegradable materials enter the compost stream, they are hard to identify. The BPI maintains a database of all products that it has certified as compostable.
Challenges extending beyond the “gray areas”
Beyond defining the term “compostable,” there are many challenges in creating compostable plastics. The materials and end products are not cheap to produce, there’s much less bio-based plastic than petroleum-derived plastic, and the technology faces some barriers. For instance, PLA can’t handle much heat, limiting its functionality unless product designers invest in a costly secondary process.
Then there is the issue of limited composting infrastructure in the U.S., noted Martinez.
Eco-Product has found a niche in a new market with tough challenges; food service operators willing to invest either because they want to do the right thing or build their brand as an environmentally responsible company. And some cities are banning Styrofoam and rigid, hard polystyrene, creating greater demand.
The company works with sports venues to divert organic waste from landfills, and compostable plastics make it easier to do than traditional food packaging. “Asking fans to scrape out nacho cheese, to put it in the trash, and then put the package in a compost bin is hard. But these plastics go with food in the compost bin, so it’s easy,” Martinez said.
The U.S. Composting Council (USCC), BPI, and the Food Service Packaging Institute are helping processors grow a structure to accommodate more than the food and sports industries. BPI and USCC produced a Quick Check Guide for compostable products, and a Compostable Plastics Toolkit to help solid waste professionals determine if a compostable plastics program is a good fit for them.
Eco-Products is among companies that make compostable products based on ASTM standards and provides samples to determine how long it takes to compost them in recyclers’ systems.
“This helps them understand if they may need to run their process longer or at a higher temperature. Or if they need to process less if it is breaking down fast,” said Martinez. “We have a long way to go before we have a composting infrastructure to divert from landfill.”
But speaking for the company she works for, she added, they will stay with it.
“We feel strongly about the value of (these products’) role in diverting food scraps from landfill.”
Producing electricity from urban solid waste could provide energy for up to 40 million African households in 2025, according to a study co-authored by the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC).
In a report published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, JRC researchers determined the potential of recovering energy from trash by using landfill gas and waste incineration, and found that it could have provided more than 20 percent of the continent’s total energy consumption in 2010.
Where there are humans, there’s trash, and an awful lot of it, too. Over the past century, we somehow managed to increase our annual waste generation 10-fold, going from producing 110 million tonnes per year in 1900, to 1.1 billion tonnes in 2000. By 2025, household trash could amount to a staggering 2.2 billion tonnes each year globally.
With its booming population, economic growth and increasing urbanisation, Africa is currently struggling to tackle the growing amounts of refuse that accompany development – a lack of infrastructure and environmentally friendly options is hampering the efforts countries take to make sure trash doesn’t become a massive problem in Africa’s future. Especially in rural areas, garbage is often simply burned without regard for pollution, or dumped in landfills without protecting groundwater.
“The poor waste management in Africa has important consequences for the disposal of uncollected waste in dumps and the associated severe environmental and health related problems,” the authors note. “Improvements in waste management are needed [and] the use of the energy content of waste could be one of the leading ideas for such progress.”
There are two ways in which urban waste in Africa can be used for energy production, and both involve fire. Waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration plants use burning trash to produce steam for generator turbines. They are especially popular in Europe, which boasted 472 such facilities back in 2010, out of over 600 found around the world.
However, they are not suitable for all African cities, because WTE plants are expensive to build and require stringent emissions controls to avoid polluting the atmosphere with toxic by-products.
For now, most cities in Africa generate large amounts of organic waste, and bury them in landfills. As stuff decomposes, these landfills generate a cocktail of polluting gasses – especially methane and carbon dioxide. If these gasses are captured and filtered, they can be burned in gas turbines, internal combustion engines, and steam boilers to generate electricity.
In their report, JRC researchers estimated that through proper waste management a whopping 83.8 TWh of electricity required by the continent in 2025 could be generated from trash.
While the information is theoretical and actual numbers would depend on the type of waste collected, as well as how efficiently the energy recovery was performed, it’s clear that smart use of trash could alleviate energy poverty in many African countries, where millions of people still don’t have access to the grid.
Massive food waste by humanity is an undisputed fact documented daily in tons of discarded scrapings from dinner plates around the world. It is now being measured as a serious threat to the global environment and economy, with an estimated one-third of all the food produced in the world left uneaten at a cost of up to $400 billion a year in waste disposal and other government costs.
The food discarded by consumers and retailers in just the most developed nations would be more than enough to sustain all the world’s 870 million hungry people if effective distribution methods were available.
Unfortunately, most of the uneaten food goes to landfills where it decomposes and produces the dangerous greenhouse gas methane at a volume that amounts to an estimated 7 percent of the total emissions contributing to the global warming threat. This puts food waste by ordinary humans in third place in methane emissions behind the busy economies of China and the United States, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. These stark facts have been laid out in a new report from the Waste and Resources Action Program, or WRAP, a British antiwaste organization. The organization warns that the problem is getting worse because the global middle class is, fortunately enough, expanding. According to the report, by 2030, consumer food waste will cost an estimated $600 billion a year — a 50 percent increase from current costs — unless there is a wide effort to change the trend.
Numerous antiwaste programs are underway, from backyard composting to restaurant donations to food pantries, from London’s campaign to cut food waste by 50 percent in five years to fish-drying innovations in West Africa that prevent spoilage. Reducing food waste by 20 percent to 50 percent could save an estimated $120 billion to $300 billion a year, according to the WRAP report.
This would take far more action by national and local governments, food producers and, most of all, consumers unaware of the mounting costs of their dinner scraps.
Source: NY Times
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