Ever wondered where all of your garbage ends up?

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5 Methods of Contemporary Waste Treatment

The World generates approximately 2 billion tons of waste yearly. We dump over 7 million tons of food waste each year, and more than 50% of it is consumable. Concurrently, 1 from every 7 people across the globe is suffering from malnourishment and hunger. Landfills have become the largest contributors to soil pollution while the levels of recycling are alarmingly low. Waste management has become a critical challenge for the contemporary world, as the levels of rubbish produced by various industries are skyrocketing along with global population growth.  The methods that we have in hand for waste treatment, even in the presence of technological advancements and innovative approaches, are not fully sustainable. Modern world mandates for ecologically friendly waste management strategies and solutions, as relying solely on garbage rotting is no more an option.

Let’s discuss the waste disposal methods available along with their benefits and drawbacks. Ideally, the finest way to deal with the rubbish would be not to create it at all. Many developed countries choose the Prevent-Minimize-Reuse-Recycle approach while dealing with trash. “Recovery through Recycling” is potentially the most fortunate form of actual waste treatment. Providing substantial economic benefits, recycling eliminates the need for acquiring raw materials by repurposing the garbage. By lowering the rate of resource depletion, recycling diminishes energy consumption on a global scale and assists in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Besides, it effectively minimizes the level of industrial waste that has to be landfilled. Many policymakers are attempting to reach higher levels of recycling, aiming to achieve economic circularity, where we no longer need to extract more resources from the Earth’s crust. As appealing as it sounds, recycling is not always an option. Sometimes the process involves excessively high costs, making it counterproductive. Furthermore, to make recycling effective, the world needs to integrate efforts, both at industrial and individual levels.

Once we have crossed the line of recycling, we come across various methods of waste management, depending on the type of materials we need to deal with. Waste that is organic in nature such as food scraps and paper products are the best treated through biological reprocessing. Biodegradation can be achieved by anaerobic digestion, aerobic composting or mechanical-biological treatment. As a result, we get usable compost material that can have numerous applications in the field of agriculture. Although labor-intensive, composting is becoming quite popular worldwide, as it diverts millions of tons of rubbish from landfills and turns them into beneficial end-products. In between the methods of biological reprocessing, anaerobic digestion is believed to be the greatest and the most innovative approach to in-vessel organic waste treatment. Since anaerobic digestion not only produces compost but biogas that can be used to generate heat and electricity, it is as well seen as a renewable source of energy.

The next method to be mentioned is the Thermal Treatment of waste. The Combustion process converts residues into gas, ash, and heat. It can reduce the mass of trash by about 96% when processed in incineration plants. Generated Energy can be used in many different ways. The major drawback of combustion is that it requires a lot of resources, making it rather expensive. Besides, the organic material that could have been biologically reprocessed gets lost along with its value.

Another emerging and highly effective technology to be discussed is Plasma Gasification. It uses the combination of extreme temperatures and electricity to turn waste into usable byproducts without the need for combustion. Plasma gasification converts organic material into gas and inorganic waste into slag that is inert vitrified glass. Slag can be cleaned of contaminants and processed into bricks and synthetic gravel usable in construction. Even though the plasma gasification facilities offer great potential for reducing landfill waste, they are associated with high costs. Besides, there are ongoing environmental concerns regarding the contaminants that can be left in byproducts, making the process less widespread across the globe.

The Last form of waste disposal to be discussed here is dumping garbage into a sanitary landfill. Landfilling has been a historically accepted way of waste management. Yet, in today’s world landfilling hardly meets the requirements of proper sustainable waste treatment. Worth to mention that while old-fashioned landfills were literally an open-air dump for residues, modern landfills have been advanced to more functional and complex design, allowing them to become a source of energy and prevent water pollution. Even though the landfills appear to be cheaper than other forms of waste disposal, they are unable to meet sustainability goals. Not everything that ends up in landfills is supposed to be there. Foreseeably, the majority of garbage we throw away carries a value that should be better used than landfilled.  What’s more, landfills require continuous monitoring and maintenance, to keep the levels of methane and liquid penetration under control along with the odor. If not attended properly, landfills can create substantial problems that are difficult to tackle.

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