Reducing global warming - energy from waste planning

Reducing global warming - energy from waste planning

Can we make waste matter?

What is waste?

Waste is directly linked to human development, both technologically and socially. The composition of different wastes have varied over time and location, with industrial development and innovation being directly linked to waste materials. Some components of waste have an economic value and can be recycled once correctly recovered.

Waste is sometimes a subjective concept, because items that some people discard may have value to others. It is widely recognised that waste materials are a valuable resource, whilst there is debate as to how this value is best realised.

Why should we generate energy from waste?

Fossil fuels are an unsustainable source of energy which are running out.

The UK and other developing countries are running out of space for landfill sites. Even after waste reduction measures a significant amount of waste is still sent to landfill. Developing countries have problems producing enough energy.

Methane produced from waste decomposition is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

Waste reduction hierarchy

The waste hierarchy is waste management strategy which aims to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste.

Delay will, at best, increase the cost of mitigation and has the potential to render action useless. The challenge is to persuade investors, individuals and governments to act decisively and immediately.

Generate energy from our waste

How can we generate energy from waste?

The energy content of waste products can be harnessed directly by using them as a direct combustion fuel, or indirectly by processing them into another type of fuel. Examples include:

Thermal Technologies:

  • Incineration
  • Gasification
  • Pyrolisis

Non thermal treatment

  • Biogas from food waste
  • Waste to ethanol
  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Composting and landfill gas

What are the barriers to generating energy from waste?

  • Methane is a greenhouse gas and burning it releases CO2, another greenhouse gas. There are concerns about toxic emissions from incineration
  • Incinerators may reduce the incentive to recycle or minimise waste. They may destroy valuable resources
  • Burning genuine waste has been overshadowed by the argument about biomass plants
  • Collection issues in developing countries – Infrastructure
  • Public perception issues in developed countries – Not In My Back Yard

Further reading

What do developing countries have to gain from generating energy from waste?

  • One man's waste is another man's treasure - business opportunities in a new business chain from waste collectors to entrepreneurs generating energy from waste
  • Advantages in improving sanitation through the use of biodigesters. Incentivising people to use sanitation facilities where health education has failed. (The photographs show a biodigester in Kiberia. The lower photograph shows a toilet; the gas generated is used to cook in a cafe shown in the upper picture)
  • Technology and principles are simple, so it is easy to implement in a wide range of situations. The Kiberia biodigester can easily be replicated, scaled up or down (domestic biolatrines) and provides a real solution to energy and sanitation problems in densely populated areas such as slums