Every single one of us can do something to improve our impact on the planet, but it is a given that businesses of all sizes have a bigger footprint than families – commercial accounts for 12% of total greenhouse gas emissions. A big factor of that is waste management. From the physical process of picking up garbage, to the methane-released process of decomposition, there are numerous factors that add up to create a large carbon footprint.
A key form of commercial waste is food waste. Between the home and restaurant, it is estimated by the US Department of Agriculture that 133 billion pounds of food is wasted every year. Much will end up in the landfill. How is technology helping to tackle this huge source of environmental waste? Restaurants themselves are benefiting from lower priced and higher quality commercial kitchen cooking equipment, that helps to raise standards and reduce wastage.
Culinary appliances for varied cuisines also benefit from a new process being developed at the Netherland’s Wageningen University. A major driver of food waste is rejected wholesale delivery, much of which will be disposed of in landfill. The technology being developed in Holland aims to reduce wastage by analyzing food at the source, closer to where recycling will be achievable.
Have you ever received a parcel from an online retailer only to find the box greatly outsizes the contents? On the face of it, this is damaging to the environment. However, many retailers use complex box sorting algorithms. The result is that the best route is chosen on balance, considering the gas needed to make the journey, the amount of stock that can be delivered and the shortest route for the driver. This is an area of intense technological innovation.
The National Waste & Recycling Association reported in 2017 on how 2018 would see further advances, particularly with the integration of artificial intelligence and augmented reality into the route-finding process.
Balancing the landfill carbon footprint
It is well established that landfills are now being used to power wind turbines, geothermal style electricity and so on. They are being improved to minimize the leachate into groundwater systems and to prevent methane escaping into the atmosphere. However, further investigation is being pushed into the possibility of using landfill as a carbon sequester.
AI-based waste management systems can help in route optimization and waste disposal
Penn State University, Lawrence Berkeley and Texas University recently joined together to secure a $2.5m grant into looking into the function of carbon, post-sequestration. This will help to shed light on the carbon footprint and create a solid foundation on which future technology can thrive.
Businesses of all sizes have an impact on the carbon footprint of the world. The various processes that go into making a business profitable and have a positive impact on their local and wider communities need to be addressed. As with many walks of life, technology is helping to bridge the gap.
Waste management is highly context specific. Therefore it is important to distinguish between the conditions in the Global North and the Global South. Recent ILO figures suggest that 24 million people around the world are involved in the informal waste recycling sector, 80% of whom are waste pickers. Some estimates say that 1% of urban population in developing countries makes their primary household income through informal sector waste management activities. In Latin America alone, 4-5 million waste pickers earn their livelihood by being a part of the global recyclables supply chain.
Municipal budgets in the Global South are often limited and only a small percentage of that budget is assigned to waste management as compared to other municipal services. In the Global North waste management is recognized as a necessary public good and there is a greater willingness to pay for this service. Solid waste management (e.g. waste collection, transportation and recycling) is generally more labour intensive than in North America and Europe.
Urbanization in the Global South is often haphazard and unplanned; creating pockets of high and low income neighbourhoods. This creates logistical issues for the waste management service provision limiting options for viable waste collection and transportation. It is often the informal sector that steps in to fill this service gap.
The maturity and strength of the legal framework differs between the Global South and Global North. In North America and Europe the legal framework of waste management actively promotes and provides incentives for waste reduction, reuse and recovery whereas, despite recent developments in some countries, in Latin America legal frameworks remain focused upon mixed waste collection, transportation and disposal.
Recycling rates in Argentina are at 11% of the total waste stream with 95% of this material is recovered by the informal sector. This situation is replicated in many other countries. The informal sector recovers between 50% (e.g. Mexico) and 90% (e.g. Nicaragua) of the waste recovered and in the different countries of the region. Resource recovery and recycling is driven by market conditions. Materials that have a value are diverted from landfill through an informal network of recyclers and waste collectors.
The informal sector can be highly effective at collecting and diverting garbage from landfill. When empowered with a facilitating legal framework, and collectively organized, the informal sector can be a key part of a sustainable resource recovery system. Using people power to increase recycling and diversion rates decreases the need for expensive, fixed, high technology solutions.
Understanding that the context for waste management is different between the Global North and Global South, and even in different areas within a city or region, means that no two situations will be the same. However, if there is one principle to follow it may well be to consider the context and look for the simplest solution. The greenest cities of the future may well be those that use flexible, adaptable solutions and maximize the work that the informal sector is already doing.
Note: This excerpt is being published with the permission of our collaborative partner Be Waste Wise. The original excerpt and its video recording can be found at this link
With population of approximately 1.75 million, waste management is one of the most serious challenges confronting the local authorities. The daily solid waste generation across Gaza is more than 1300 tons which is characterized by per capita waste generation of 0.35 to 1.0 kg. Scarcity of waste disposal sites coupled with huge increase in waste generation is leading to serious environmental and human health impacts on the population.
The severity of the crisis is a direct consequence of continuing blockade by Israeli Occupation Forces and lack of financial assistance from international donor. Israeli Occupation Forces deliberately destroyed most of the sewage infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, during 2008-2009 Gaza War inflicting heavy damage to sewage pipes, water tanks, wastewater treatment plants etc.
There are three landfills in Gaza Strip – one each in southern and central part of Gaza and one in Gaza governorate. In addition, there are numerous unregulated dumpsites scattered across rural and urban areas which are not fenced, lined or monitored. Around 52% of the MSW stream is made up of organic wastes.
Domestic, industrial and medical wastes are often dumped near cities and villages or burned and disposed of in unregulated disposal sites which cause soil, air and water pollution, leading to health hazards and ecological damage. The physical damage caused to Gaza’s infrastructure by repeated Israeli aggression has been a major deterred in putting forward a workable solid waste management strategy in the Strip.
The sewage disposal problem is assuming alarming proportions. The Gaza Strip’s sewage service networks cover most areas, except for Khan Yunis and its eastern villages where only 40% of the governorate is covered. There are only three sewage water treatment stations in Gaza Strip – in Beit Lahia, Gaza city and Rafah – which are unable to cope with the increasing population growth rate. The total quantity of produced sewage water is estimated at 45 million m3 per annum, in addition to 3000 cubic meters of raw sewage sludge discharged from Gaza Strip directly into the sea every day. Sewage water discharge points are concentrated on the beaches of Gaza city, Al Shate’ refugee camp and Deir El Balah.
The continuous discharge of highly contaminated sewage water from Gaza Strip in the Mediterranean shores is causing considerable damage to marine life in the area. The beaches of Gaza City are highly polluted by raw sewage. In addition, groundwater composition in Gaza Strip is marked by high salinity and nitrate content which may be attributed to unregulated disposal of solid and liquid wastes from domestic, industrial and agricultural sources. The prevalent waste management scenario demands immediate intervention of international donors, environmental agencies and regional governments in order to prevent the situation from assuming catastrophic proportions.
Waste management is one of the most serious environmental challenges faced by the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar. mainly on account of high population growth rate, urbanization, industrial growth and economic expansion. The country has one of the highest per capita waste generation rates worldwide of 1.8 kg per day.
Qatar produces more than 2.5 million tons of municipal solid waste each year. Solid waste stream is mainly comprised of organic materials (around 60 percent) while the rest of the waste steam is made up of recyclables like glass, paper, metals and plastics.
Municipalities are responsible for solid waste collection in Qatar both directly, using their own logistics, and indirectly through private sector contract. Waste collection and transport is carried out by a large fleet of trucks that collect MSW from thousands of collection points scattered across the country.
The predominant method of solid waste disposal in Qatar is landfilling. The collected is discharged at various transfer stations from where it is sent to the landfill. There are three landfills in Qatar; Umm Al-Afai for bulky and domestic waste, Rawda Rashed for construction and demolition waste, and Al-Krana for sewage wastes. However, the method of waste disposal by landfill is not a practical solution for a country like Qatar where land availability is limited.
Solid Waste Management Strategy
According to Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016, the country will adopt a multi-faceted strategy to contain the levels of waste generated by households, commercial sites and industry – and to promote recycling initiatives. Qatar intends to adopt integrated waste hierarchy of prevention, reduction, reuse, recycling, energy recovery, and as a last option, landfill disposal.
Five waste transfer stations have been setup in South Doha, West Doha, Industrial Area, Dukhan and Al-Khor to reduce the quantity of waste going to Umm Al-Afai landfill. These transfer stations are equipped with material recovery facility for separating recyclables such as glass, paper, aluminium and plastic.
Domestic Solid Waste Management Centre
One of the most promising developments has been the creation of Domestic Solid Waste Management Centre (DSWMC) at Mesaieed. This centre is designed to maximize recovery of resources and energy from waste by installing state-of-the-art technologies for separation, pre-processing, mechanical and organic recycling, and waste-to-energy and composting technologies.
At its full capacity, it treats 1550 tons of waste per day, and is expected to generate enough power for in-house requirements, and supply a surplus of 34.4 MW to the national grid.
While commendable steps are being undertaken to handle solid waste, the Government should also strive to enforce strict waste management legislation and create mass awareness about 4Rs of waste management viz. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recovery. Legislation are necessary to ensure compliance, failure of which will attract a penalty with spot checks by the Government body entrusted with its implementation.
Improvement in curbside collection mechanism and establishment of material recovery facilities and recycling centres may also encourage public participation in waste management initiatives. When the Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016 was conceived, the solid waste management facility plant at Mesaieed was a laudable solution, but its capacity has been overwhelmed by the time the project was completed. Qatar needs a handful of such centers to tackle the burgeoning garbage disposal problem.
Waste management is one of the core themes of sustainability, but achieving sustainable waste management is a challenging and complex task. Despite the fact that an increasing amount of waste has been reused and recycled, landfills still play an important role in the management of wastes.
However, waste degradation in landfill produce leachate and harmful gases viz. carbon dioxide, methane which are considered as greenhouse gases. It has been studied that leachate contribute to 20% emission of greenhouse gases. This can largely risk human health as well as threat to environment. Furthermore, it contains low concentration of gases with heavy aromatic rings, most of them are toxic in nature.
The increasing cost of waste disposal is a cause of major concern in developing nations
Movements of leachate create problem as aquifers need more time for rehabilitation. Leachate can migrate to groundwater or surface water and have potential threat to drinking water. Constructing landfills have adverse effects on aquaculture and habitats by diffusing leachate into surface/groundwater with limited on-site recycling activities.
Various studies also claim that residential areas close to landfill areas have low housing values because people don’t prefer to live close to the area enriched with flies, mosquitoes, bacteria and bad odours.
The lower calorific value of wastes lowers the significance of waste-to-energy technologies, such as incineration/gasification, and make waste-to-energy less viable as solution for waste management solution. The low calorific value is an important outcome of waste collection process.
Waste scavengers often collect in a mixed state with all type of wastes, which include reusable materials, plastic, glass bottles etc. which reduces the calorific value and combustibility of waste. Waste is usually sorted out manually and unfortunately it becomes very difficult to regulate and implement an efficient method. This kind of waste recovery methods is very common in Asian countries e.g. India, Indonesia etc. using improper waste management technique can cause contaminated soil, water and environment.
Water is most easy to contaminate as it dissolves chemicals easily, causing harm to all living organisms including humans. Animal and marine life is most effected with water contamination. It also restricts our use of water for drinking and cooking purposes without cleaning system. The environment is highly harmed because of improper waste management.
Greenhouse gases are generated from decomposition of waste, these gasses are major cause of global warming affecting air precipitation, causing acid rain to severe hailstorms. Moreover humans who live near to garbage dumping area are found to be most significant to risk of health diseases, skin problems, cancer etc.
Olusosun is the largest dumpsite in Nigeria
With proper awareness and teaching methods of efficient waste management we can achieve sustainable solution to waste management. It has been forecasted by Environmental Sanitary Protection Plan that, by 2020 Kamikatsu a city in Japan is going to be 100% free from waste. Although the target of reaching the 100% waste is going to be achieved but the standby waste issue is going to be major hurdle as Kamikatsu have only 34% of land space available.
The lack of availability of standby space for waste is going to be major problem in future because of shortage of space, degraded quality of waste with lower calorific value and formation of leachate. And unfortunately, this issue is not going to be solved very soon.
Some countries have achieved considerable success in solid waste management. But the rest of the world is grappling to deal with its wastes. In these places, improper management of solid waste continues to impact public health of entire communities and cities; pollute local water, air and land resources; contribute to climate change and ocean plastic pollution; hinder climate change adaptation; and accelerate depletion of forests and mines.
Compared to solid waste management, we can consider that the world has achieved significant success in providing other basic necessities like food, drinking water, energy and economic opportunities. Managing solid wastes properly can help improve the above services further.
Composting of organic waste can help nurture crops and result in a better agricultural yield. Reducing landfilling and building sanitary landfills will reduce ground and surface water pollution which can help provide cleaner drinking water. Energy recovery from non-recyclable wastes can satiate significant portion of a city’s energy requirement.
Inclusive waste management where informal waste recyclers are involved can provide an enormous economic opportunity to the marginalized urban poor. Additionally, a good solid waste management plan with cost recovery mechanisms can free tax payers money for other issues. In the case of India, sustainable solid waste management in 2011 would have provided
9.6 million tons of compost that could have resulted in a better agricultural yield
energy equivalent to 58 million barrels of oil from non-recyclable wastes
6.7 million tons of secondary raw materials to industries in the form of recyclable materials and livelihood to the urban poor
Solid waste management until now has only been a social responsibility of the corporate world or one of the services to be provided by the municipality and a non-priority for national governments. However, in Mumbai, the improperly managed wastes generate 22,000 tons of toxic pollutants like particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrous and sulfur oxides in addition to 10,000 grams of carcinogenic dioxins and furans every year. These numbers are only for the city of Mumbai. This is the case in cities all across the developing world. There are numerous examples where groundwater is polluted by heavy metals and organic contaminants due to solid waste landfills.
Solid waste management expenditure of above $ 1 billion per year competes with education, poverty, security and other sustainable initiatives in New York City. Fossil fuels for above 500,000 truck trips covering hundreds of miles are required to transport NYC’s waste to landfills outside the city and state. Similarly, New Delhi spends more than half of its entire municipal budget on solid waste management, while it is desperate for investments and maintenance of roads, buildings, and other infrastructure.
Solid waste management is not just a corporate social responsibility or a non-priority service anymore. Improper waste management is a public health and environmental crisis, economic loss, operational inefficiency and political and public awareness failure. Integrated solid waste management can be a nation building exercise for healthier and wealthier communities. Therefore, it needs global attention to arrive at solutions which span across such a wide range of issues.
For the first time in the history of India, the year 2012 saw several public protests against improper solid waste management all across India – from the northernmost state Jammu and Kashmir to the southernmost Tamil Nadu. A fight for the right to clean environment and environmental justice led the people to large scale demonstrations, including an indefinite hunger strike and blocking roads leading to local waste handling facilities. Improper waste management has also caused a Dengue Fever outbreak and threatens other epidemics.
In recent years, solid waste management has been the only other unifying factor leading to public demonstrations all across India, after corruption and fuel prices. Public agitation resulted in some judicial action and the government’s remedial response, but the waste management problems are still unsolved and might lead to a crisis if this continues for too long without any long term planning and policy reforms.
Hunger Strike in Kerala
The President of Vilappilsala Village Panchayat went on a hunger strike recently, against her counterpart, the Mayor of Thiruvananthapuram. Thiruvananthapuram is the state capital of Kerala, and Vilappilsala is a village 22 km away.
Since July 2000, about 80% of the waste generated in Thiruvananthapuram is being transported to a waste composting plant and a dumpsite in Vilappilsala village. Since the same month, respiratory illnesses reported in Vilappil Primary Health Center increased by 10 times from an average of 450 to 5,000 cases per month. People who used to regularly swim in the village’s aquifer started contracting infections; swarms of flies have ever since been pervasive; and a stigma of filth affected households throughout the community. This was a source of frustration as locals who, as Indians, prize the opportunity to feed and host guests, found them unwilling to even drink a glass of water in their homes. Currently, there is not a single household which has not experienced respiratory illnesses due to the waste processing plant and the adjoining dumpsite.
On the other hand, Thiruvananthapuram’s residents had to sneak out at night with plastic bags full of trash to dispose them behind bushes, on streets or in water bodies, and had to openly burn heaps of trash every morning for months. This was because the waste generated was not being collected by the City as it could not force open the composting plant and dumpsite against large scale protests by Vilappilsala’s residents. This is why in August – 2012, about 2,500 police personnel had to accompany trucks to the waste treatment plant as they were being blocked by local residents lying down on the road, and by some, including the village’s President, by going on an indefinite hunger strike.
Municipal Commissioner Replaced in Karnataka
In response to a similar situation in Bengaluru, the state capital of Karnataka, where the streets were rotting with piles of garbage for months, the municipal commissioner of the city was replaced to specifically address the waste management situation. Against the will of local residents, a landfill which was closed following the orders issued by the state’s pollution control board in response to public agitation had to be reopened soon after its closure as the city could not find a new landfill site.
Mavallipura landfill in Bangalore
Population density and the scale of increasing urban sprawl in India make finding new landfill sites around cities nearly impossible due to the sheer lack of space for Locally Unwanted Land Uses (LULUs) like waste management.
Dengue Outbreak in West Bengal
Even if partially because of improper waste management, Kolkata, state capital of West Bengal and the third biggest city in India experienced a Dengue Fever outbreak with 550 confirmed cases and 60 deaths. This outbreak coincides with a 600% increase in dengue cases in India and 71% increase in malarial cases in Mumbai in the last five years.
Accumulation of rain water in non biodegradable waste littered around a city act as a major breeding environment for mosquitoes, thus increasing the density of mosquito population and making the transmission of mosquito related diseases like dengue, yellow fever and malaria easier.
Rabies in Srinagar
Rabies due to stray dog bites already kills more than 20,000 people in India every year. Improper waste management has caused a 1:13 stray dog to human ratio in Srinagar (compared to 1 per 31 people in Mumbai and 1 per 100 in Chennai), where 54,000 people were bitten by stray dogs in a span of 3.5 years. Municipal waste on streets and at the dumpsite is an important source of food for stray dogs.
Food processing industry around the world is making serious efforts to minimize by-products, compost organic waste, recycle processing and packaging materials, and save energy and water. The three R’s of waste management – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – can help food manufacturers in reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill and reusing waste.
EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy
EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy is an excellent resource to follow for food processors and beverage producers as it provides the guidance to start a program that will provide the most benefits for the environment, society and the food manufacturer.
recycling/reusing waste for utilization by other industries,
feeding surplus food to needy people
Waste Management Options
Food manufacturers has a unique problem – excess product usually has a relatively short shelf life while most of the waste is organic in nature. Food waste created during the production process can be turned into animal feed and sold to goat farms, chicken farms etc. As far as WWTP sludge is concerned, top food manufacturers are recycling/reusing it through land application, anaerobic digestion and composting alternatives.
Organic waste at any food processing plant can be composted in a modern in-vessel composting and the resultant fertilizer can be used for in-house landscaping or sold as organic fertilizer as attractive prices.
Another plausible way of managing organic waste at the food manufacturing plant is to biologically degrade it in an anaerobic digester leading to the formation of energy-rich biogas and digestate. Biogas can be used as a heating fuel in the plant itself or converted into electricity by using a CHP unit while digestate can be used as a soil conditioner. Biogas can also be converted into biomethane or bio-CNG for its use as vehicle fuel.
Items such as cardboard, clean plastic, metal and paper are all commodities that can be sold to recyclers Lots of cardboard boxes are used by food manufacturers for supplies which can be broken down into flat pieces and sold to recyclers.
Cardboard boxes can also be reused to temporarily store chip packages before putting them into retail distribution boxes. Packaging can be separated in-house and recovered using “jet shredder” waste technologies which separate film, carton and foodstuffs, all of which can then be recycled separately.
Organizing a Zero Landfill Program
How do you develop a plan to create a zero landfill program or zero waste program in food and beverage producing company? The best way to begin is to start at a small-level and doing what you can. Perfect those programs and set goals each year to improve. Creation of a core team is an essential step in order to explore different ways to reduce waste, energy and utilities.
Measuring different waste streams and setting a benchmark is the initial step in the zero landfill program. Once the data has been collected, we should break these numbers down into categories, according to the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and identify the potential opportunities.
For example, inorganic materials can be categorized based on their end lives (reuse, recycle or landfill). The food and beverage industry should perform a waste sort exercise (or dumpster dive) to identify its key streams.
Nestlé USA – A Case Study
In April 2015, Nestlé USA announced all 23 of its facilities were landfill free. As part of its sustainability effort, Nestlé USA is continually looking for new ways to reuse, recycle and recover energy, such as composting, recycling, energy production and the provision of safe products for animal feed, when disposing of manufacturing by-products.
Employees also work to minimize by-products and engage in recycling programs and partnerships with credible waste vendors that dispose of manufacturing by-products in line with Nestlé’s environmental sustainability guidelines and standards. All Nestlé facilities employ ISO 14001-certified environmental management systems to minimize their environmental impact.
Solid waste management is one of the major environmental problems threatening the Kingdom of Morocco. More than 5 million tons of solid waste is generated across the country with annual waste generation growth rate touching 3 percent. The proper disposal of municipal solid waste in Morocco is exemplified by major deficiencies such as lack of proper infrastructure and suitable funding in areas outside of major cities.
According to the World Bank, it was reported that before a recent reform in 2008 “only 70 percent of urban wastes was collected and less than 10 percent of collected waste was being disposed of in an environmentally and socially acceptable manner. There were 300 uncontrolled dumpsites, and about 3,500 waste-pickers, of which 10 percent were children, were living on and around these open dumpsites.”
It is not uncommon to see trash burning as a means of solid waste disposal in Morocco. Currently, the municipal waste stream, including hazardous wastes, is disposed of in a reckless and unsustainable manner which has major effects on public health and the environment. The lack of waste management infrastructure leads to burning of trash as a form of inexpensive waste disposal. Unfortunately, the major health effects of burning trash are either widely unknown or grossly under-estimated to the vast majority of the population in Morocco.
The good news about the future of Morocco’s MSW management is that the World Bank has allocated $271.3 million to the Moroccan government to develop a municipal waste management plan. The plan’s details include restoring around 80 landfill sites, improving trash pickup services, and increasing recycling by 20%, all by the year 2020. While this reform is expected to do wonders for the urban population one can only hope the benefits of this reform trickle down to the 43% of the Moroccan population living in rural areas, like those who are living in my village.
Needless to say, even with Morocco’s movement toward a safer and more environmentally friendly MSW management system there is still an enormous population of people including children and the elderly who this reform will overlook. Until more is done, including funding initiatives and an increase in education, these people will continue to be exposed to hazardous living conditions because of unsuitable funding, infrastructure, policies and education.
For a society accustomed to the achievements of a linear economy, the transition to a circular economic system is a hard task even to contemplate. Although the changes needed may seem daunting, it is important to remember that we have already come a long way. However, the history of the waste hierarchy has taught that political perseverance and unity of approach are essential to achieving long term visions in supply chain management.
Looking back, it is helpful to view the significance of the Lansink’s Ladder in the light of the sustainability gains it has already instigated. From the outset, the Ladder encountered criticism, in part because the intuitive preference order it expresses is not (and has never been put forward as) scientifically rigorous. Opposition came from those who feared the hierarchy would impede economic growth and clash with an increasingly consumerist society. The business community expressed concerns about regulatory burdens and the cost of implementing change.
However, such criticism was not able to shake political support, either in Holland where the Ladder was adopted in the Dutch Environmental Protection Act of 1979, or subsequently across Europe, as the Waste Hierarchy was transposed into national legislation as a result of the revised Waste Framework Directive.
Prevention, reuse and recycling have become widely used words as awareness has increased that our industrial societies will eventually suffer a shortage of raw materials and energy. So, should we see the waste hierarchy as laying the first slabs of the long road to a circular economy? Or is the circular economy a radical new departure?
Positive and negative thinking
There have been two major transitionary periods in waste management: public health was the primary driver for the first, from roughly 1900 to 1960, in which waste removal was formalised as a means to avoid disease. The second gained momentum in the 1980s, when prevention, reuse and recovery came on the agenda. However, consolidation of the second transition has in turn revealed new drivers for a third. Although analysing drivers is always tricky – requiring a thorough study of causes and effects – a general indication is helpful for further discussion. Positive (+) and negative (-) drivers for a third transition may be:
(+) The development of material supply chain management through the combination of waste hierarchy thinking with cradle to cradle eco design;
(+) The need for sustainable energy solutions;
(+) Scarcity of raw materials necessary for technological innovation; and
(+) Progressive development of circular economy models, with increasing awareness of social, financial and economic barriers.
(-) Growth of the global economy, especially in China and India, and later in Africa;
(-) Continued growth in global travel;
(-) Rising energy demand, exceeding what can be produced from renewable energy sources and threatening further global warming;
(-) Biodiversity loss, causing a further ecological impoverishment; and
(-) Conservation of the principle of ownership, which hinders the development of the so-called ‘lease society’.
A clear steer
As the direction, scale and weight of these drivers are difficult to assess, it’s necessary to steer developments at all levels to a sustainable solution. The second transition taught that governmental control appears indispensable, and that regulation stimulates innovation so long as adequate space is left for industry and producers to develop their own means of satisfying their legislated responsibilities.
The European Waste Framework Directive has been one such stimulatory piece of legislation. Unfortunately, the EC has decided to withdraw its Circular Economy package, which would otherwise now be on track to deliver the additional innovation needed to achieve its goals – including higher recycling targets. Messrs. Juncker and Timmermans must now either bring forward the more ambitious legislation they have hinted at, or explain why they have abandoned the serious proposals of their predecessors.
Perhaps the major differences between Member States and other countries may require a preliminary two-speed policy, but any differences in timetable between Western Europe and other countries should not stand in the way of innovation, and differences of opinion between the European Parliament and the Commission must be removed for Europe to remain credible.
Governmental control requires clear rules and definitions, and for legislative terminology to be commensurate with policy objectives. One failing in this area is the use of the generic term ‘recovery’ to cover product reuse, recycling and incineration with energy recovery, which confuses the hierarchy’s preference order. The granting of R1 status to waste incineration plants, although understandable in terms of energy diversification, turns waste processors into energy producers benefiting from full ovens. Feeding these plants reduces the scope for recycling (e.g. plastics) and increases CO2 emissions. When relatively inefficient incinerators still appear to qualify for R1 status, it offers confusing policy signals for governments, investors and waste services providers alike.
The key role for government also is to set clear targets and create the space for producers and consumers to generate workable solutions. The waste hierarchy’s preference order is best served by transparent minimum standards, grouped around product reuse, material recycling or disposal by combustion. For designated product or material categories, multiple minimum standards are possible following preparation of the initial waste streams, which can be tightened as technological developments allow.
Where the rubber meets the road
As waste markets increase in scale, are liberalised, and come under international regulation, individual governmental control is diminished. These factors are currently playing out in the erratic prices of secondary commodities and the development of excess incinerator capacity in some nations that has brought about a rise in RDF exports from the UK and Italy. Governments, however, may make a virtue of the necessity of avoiding the minutiae: ecological policy is by definition long-term and requires a stable line; day to day control is an impossible and undesirable task.
The road to the third transition – towards a circular economy – requires a new mind-set from government that acknowledges and empowers individuals. Not only must we approach the issue from the bottom-up, but also from the side and above. Consumer behaviour must be steered by both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ controls: through information and communication, because of the importance of psychological factors; but also through financial instruments, because both consumers and industry are clearly responsive to such stimuli.
Where we see opposition to deposit return schemes, it comes not from consumers but from industry, which fears the administrative and logistical burden. The business community must be convinced of the economic opportunities of innovation. Material supply chain management is a challenge for designers and producers, who nevertheless appreciate the benefits of product lifetime extensions and reuse. When attention to environmental risks seems to lapse – for example due to financial pressures or market failures – then politics must intervene.
Government and industry should therefore get a better grip on the under-developed positive drivers of the third transition, such as eco design, secondary materials policy, sustainable energy policy, and research and development in the areas of bio, info, and nanotechnologies.
Third time’s the charm
Good supply chain management stands or falls with the way in which producers and consumers contribute to the policies supported by government and society. In order that producers and consumers make good on this responsibility, government must first support their environmental awareness.
The interpretation of municipal duty of care determines options for waste collection, disposal and processing. Also essential is the way in which producer responsibility takes shape, and the government must provide a clear separation of private and public duties. Businesses may be liable for the negative aspects of unbridled growth and irresponsible actions. It is also important for optimal interaction with the European legislators: a worthy entry in Brussels is valuable because of the international aspects of the third transition. Finally, supply chain management involves the use of various policy tools, including:
Rewarding good behaviour
Sharpening minimum standards
Development and certification of CO2 tools
Formulation and implementation of end-of-waste criteria
Remediation of waste incineration with low energy efficiency
Restoration or maintenance of a fair landfill tax
Application of the combustion load set at zero
‘Seeing is believing’ is the motto of followers of the Apostle Thomas, who is chiefly remembered for his propensity for doubt. The call for visible examples is heard ever louder as more questions are raised around the feasibility of product renewal and the possibilities of a circular economy.
Ultimately, the third transition is inevitable as we face a future of scarcity of raw materials and energy. However, while the direction is clear, the tools to be employed and the speed of change remain uncertain. Disasters are unnecessary to allow the realisation of vital changes; huge leaps forward are possible so long as government – both national and international – and society rigorously follow the preference order of the waste hierarchy. Climbing Lansink’s Ladder remains vital to attaining a perspective from which we might judge the ways in which to make a circle of our linear economy.
Note: The article is being republished with the permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be found at this link.
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