A recent article in the Guardian asked whether new industrial waste technology, coupled with a change in public behaviour could eliminate the need for landfill sites. New techniques are enabling some waste to be dug up and the methane gas it produces to be used to generate electricity; other rubbish is being re-used as building materials.
Recycling in the UK has undoubtedly been effective at cutting down on waste because only 50 per cent of our household waste ends up in landfill. While 50 per cent might sound like a good reduction that still means tens of millions of tonnes of trash is not being recycled. But even so we can see that with technological advances from comapnies such as Advanced Plasma Power (APP) that there might be a future ahead of us where most, if not all, of our waste is re-used or recycled.
Typical waste reprocessing plants that incinerate waste instead can process up to 170,000 tonnes of rubbish each year, which is equivalent to the amount of waste produce by a large city. This quantity can create enough gas to generate sufficient electricity to power up to 9,000 homes. The same process produces, as a by-product, approximately 20,000 tonnes of aggregate that can be used in the construction industry.
Waste plants that are already using these incineration methods have not completely eliminated waste because ash is also produced as a by-product and cannot currently be re-used but companies hope to find a use for it in the future.
Burning waste, even when it produces useable end-products is not necessarily the perfect solution because it reduces the possibilities for recycling and some people believe we should focus more on re-use rather than simply destroying our waste.
Waste Technology: Digging up Old Rubbish
Old landfill sites that were being filled before the advent of large scale recycling are known to be full of waste that actually could be recycled – some estimates put that quantity as high as 45 per cent. These products could include millions of tonnes of glass, ceramics, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastics, paper, wood and textiles. With new waste technology in action there is now a landfill mining plant in Belgium expected to be operating by 2016 that will be aiming to do just that – reclaim the recyclable materials from old landfill sites.