Recycling of EPS Foam Packaging

Municipalities and organisations are facing a growing problem in disposal and recycling of EPS foam packaging and products. EPS foam (Encapsulated Poly-Styrene) packaging is a highly popular plastic packaging material which finds wide application in packaging of food items, electronic goods, electrical appliances, furniture etc due to its excellent insulating and protective properties. EPS foam (also known as polystyrene) is also used to make useful products such as disposable cups, trays, cutlery, cartons, cases etc. However, being large and bulky, polystyrene take up significant space in rubbish bins which means that bins becomes full more quickly and therefore needs to be emptied more often.

Polystyrene is lightweight compared to its volume so it occupies lots of precious landfill space and can be blown around and cause a nuisance in the surrounding areas. Although some companies have a recycling policy, most of the polystyrene still find its way into landfill sites around the world.

Environmental Hazards of EPS Foam

While it is estimated that EPS foam products accounts for less than 1% of the total weight of landfill materials, the fraction of landfill space it takes up is much higher considering that it is very lightweight.  Furthermore, it is essentially non-biodegradable, taking hundreds perhaps thousands of years to decompose.

Even when already disposed of in landfills, polystyrene can easily be carried by the wind and litter the streets or end up polluting water bodies. When EPS foam breaks apart, the small polystyrene components can be eaten by marine organisms which can cause choking or intestinal blockage.

Polystyrene can also be consumed by fishes once it breaks down in the ocean.  Marine animals higher up the food chain could eat the fishes that have consumed EPS, thus concentrating the contaminant.  It could be a potential health hazard for us humans who are on top of the food chain considering that styrene, the plastic monomer used in manufacturing EPS has been classified by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a possible human carcinogen.

Styrene is derived from either petroleum or natural gas, both of which are non-renewable and are rapidly being depleted, creating environmental sustainability problems for EPS.

Trends in EPS Foam Recycling

Although the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers have reported that the recycling rate for post-consumer and post-commercial EPS in the United States have risen to 28% in 2010 from around 20% in 2008, this value is still lower than most solid wastes.  According to USEPA, auto batteries, steel cans and glass containers have recycle rates of 96.2%, 70.6% and 34.2% respectively.

Because it is bulky, EPS foam takes up storage space and costs more to transport and yet yields only a small amount of polystyrene for re-use or remolding (infact, polystyrene accounts for only 2% of the volume of uncompacted EPS foams). This provides little incentive for recyclers to consider EPS recycling.

Products that have been used to hold or store food should be thoroughly cleaned for hygienic reasons, thus compounding the costs.  For the same reasons, these products cannot be recycled to produce the same food containers but rather are used for non-food plastic products.  The manufacture of food containers, therefore, always requires new polystyrene.  At present, it is more economical to produce new EPS foam products than to recycle it, and manufacturers would rather have the higher quality of fresh polystyrene over the recycled one.

The cost of transporting bulky polystyrene waste discourages recyclers from recycling it.  Organizations that receive a large amount of EPS foam (especially in packaging) can invest in a compactor that will reduce the volume of the products. Recyclers will pay more for the compacted product so the investment can be recovered relatively easier.

There are also breakthroughs in studies concerning EPS recycling although most of these are still in the research or pilot stage.  Several studies have found that the bacteria Pseudomonas putida is able to convert polystyrene to a more biodegradable plastic.  The process of polystyrene depolymerization – converting polystyrene back to its styrene monomer – is also gaining ground.

More Reasons To Check Out Alternative Energy Sources

In recent years, the world has seen significant economic progress, which greatly relied on energy fueled by coal and petroleum among others. With the continuously growing demand for energy, it is a fact that these energy sources may be depleted in the near future. Apart from this, there are several other reasons why humankind already needs to find alternative energy sources.

Global Warming

It is a known fact that different manufacturing processes and human activities, such as using vehicles, cause pollution in the atmosphere by releasing carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the earth, and this phenomenon is known as global warming. Global warming has several harmful impacts such as stronger and more frequent storms, as well as drought and heat waves. Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass to name a few, all generate minimal global warming emissions.

Wind power, for instance, has the capability to supply energy with a significantly lower emission compared to burning coal for fuel. This is the reason why wind energy is more beneficial compared to carbon-intensive energy sources. Still, the emissions generated by wind power are even lower compared to other renewable energy sources such as solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric power sources. This makes a huge potential for wind power to sustain the world’s energy demands, while preserving the environment.

Public Health

It goes without saying that the pollution caused by burning coal and fuel not only has an environmental impact, but it also has a significant effect on public health. Various diseases and ailments can be attributed to pollution, which usually affects the respiratory tract. Contaminated water also causes various bacterial infections. Wind power, solar energy, and hydroelectric systems have the capability to generate electricity without emitting air pollutants. Additionally, wind and solar energy sources do not need water to operate, thereby, eliminating the probability of polluting water resources. Clean air and water that is free from pollutants, will have a significant positive impact on public health.

Constant Energy Source

While coal and fossil fuels are on the threshold of depletion, renewable energy sources are inexhaustible. Wind can be a constant energy source and no matter how high the demand for energy will be, the wind will not be depleted. In the same manner, as long as the sun shines bright on earth, there will always be an abundant solar energy source. Fast-moving water that can be translated into hydroelectric energy, the earth’s heat that can be converted into a geothermal power source, as well as abundant plant matter that can be used as biomass, can all be constantly replenished. These can never be fully exhausted no matter how great the energy demand will be. The utilization of a combination of each of these energy sources will prove to be even more beneficial. Additionally, with its continued use, there will no longer be a need for combustible energy sources.

Lower Energy Costs

The cost of electricity continues to be a burden on the earth’s greater population. The use of renewable energy sources to light up the earth is considerably cheaper and inexpensive compared to the cost of burning fossil fuels for electricity and other energy needs. Apart from a cheaper cost, renewable energy sources can help stabilize to cost of energy in the long run, with an unlimited supply being able to cater to greater demand. While it cannot be denied that setting up clean energy technologies comes with a cost, it can be noted that the cost of its operation is significantly lower. Conversely, the cost of coal and fossil fuels for energy consumption fluctuates over a wide range and is greatly affected by the economic and political conditions of its country of origin.

Economic Benefits

Fossil fuel technologies, often, revolve around the capitalistic market. Hence, the use of combustible fuels is often linked to unfavorable labor conditions, and even child labor and slavery. On the other hand, the use of renewable energy sources provides decent jobs, contributing to several economic benefits. For instance, workers are needed to install and maintain solar panels. In the same manner, wind farms employ technicians for maintenance. Thus, jobs are created directly in parallel with the unit of energy produced. This means that more jobs will be produced if more renewable energy sources are utilized.

Reliability

Clean energy sources, specifically wind and solar power, are less susceptible to large-scale failures. The reason behind this is that both wind and solar power both employ distributed and modular systems. This means that electricity will not be totally cut off in instances of extreme weather conditions because the energy sources powering up the electricity is spread out over a wider geographical area. In the same manner, there will still be a continuous supply of energy even if certain equipment in the entire system is damaged because clean fuel technologies are made up of modules such as a number of individual wind turbines or solar panels.

With all the reasons to check out alternative energy sources, it still holds true that there remain several barriers that hinder the full implementation of renewable energy technologies. Some of these challenges are capital costs because of reliability misconceptions, as well as a difficult market entry due to an unequal playing field. Because renewable energy sources are cheap to operate, the bulk of the expenses in its implementation is building the technology. Thereby, the rate of return for capitalists and investors in the market entails a longer waiting period. Adding to this barrier is the hidden political agenda that most governments need to overcome.

Economic progress and advancement in technology are not at all bad. On the contrary, it has brought forth a lot of benefits such as cures for ailments and diseases, resources for deep-sea or space explorations, as well as meaningful collaboration and communication. However, this progress came with a price, and unfortunately, it’s the world’s energy resources that are on the brink of exhaustion. Hence, mitigation has been already necessary and finding alternative energy sources is just one of the probable solutions.

The Problem of Shipping Wastes

garbage-oceanShipping wastes, long a neglected topic, has started to attract worldwide attention, thanks to the mysterious and tragic disappearance of flight MH370. During the search for MH370, a succession of items floating in the sea were identified as possible wreckage, but later confirmed to be simply pieces of marine litter. Whilst it was large pieces of debris that complicated the search, marine debris of all sizes causes problems for users of marine resources. In the most polluted areas, around 300,000 items of debris can be found in each square kilometre.

Up to 80% of ocean debris originates from land based sources, including beach litter, litter transported by rivers, and discharges of untreated municipal sewage, while ocean based sources (merchant shipping, ferries, cruise liners, fishing and military vessels) account for the remainder. Whilst typically this may be only 20% of marine litter, in areas of high shipping activity such as the North Sea it rises closer to 40%.

Wastes from commercial vessels seems like an area that could be effectively tackled with regulation. However, it is difficult for individual nations or regions to take action when ships operate in international waters and the debris in our oceans is constantly on the move.

So how is it addressed through international legislation?

Law of the Seas

In fact, a good many laws are already in place. The key piece of legislation preventing ‘the disposal of garbage at sea’ is Annex V of the International Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). Amongst the numerous other relevant laws are the London Convention and Protocol, the Basel Convention, UNCLOS, and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

In addition, many more laws exist at regional and national levels. In the EU, laws directly related to marine debris include the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Directive on Port Reception Facilities. Laws indirectly related to marine debris include the Common Fisheries Policy, the Water Framework Directive, the Waste Framework Directive, the Habitats Directive…. The list goes on.

Fathoming the Legislation

Despite the profusion of legislation, the scale of the current and potential problems caused by marine debris, it is clear that implementation and enforcement is lagging behind. Why so?

Ratification

As yet, not all coastal or flag states have ratified international instruments such as MARPOL Annex V. This means that ships registered with a non-ratified state under a‘flag of convenience’ may legally continue to discharge garbage in international waters. However, even if the current suite of international legislation was universally ratified, this would serve to expose the remaining gaps in the framework.

Discharge provisions

MARPOL Annex V includes specific requirements regarding the discharge of different types of waste and location of discharges. For instance, ground food waste can be discharged up to 3 nautical miles from land, but if it is not ground it may only be discharged at a distance of 12 nautical miles or more. Although the discharge of ‘all other garbage including plastics’ is prohibited, compliance relies upon good waste management practices on board vessels.

If waste streams are contaminated, this may result in plastics and other debris being discharged into the sea. The current approach may have been developed to accommodate shipping activity, but in practice it is somewhat confusing and it would perhaps make more sense to issue a blanket ban on discharges.

Scope

Another gap within MARPOL Annex V is the scope of the requirements for ‘garbage management plans’ and ‘garbage record books’. Vessels of 100 gross tonnes or more are required to have a garbage management plan, while vessels of 400 gross tonnes or more are required to have a garbage record book. Smaller vessels are not obliged to comply with the requirements.

Less than 1% of vessels in the world fishing fleet have a gross tonnage of over 100 tonnes, the majority has no obligation to implement and maintain a plan or book; with no planning or record keeping, the risk of illegal disposal is increased. Small fishing vessels may not be considered ‘commercial’ shipping vessels at all – thereby avoiding legislation – but they still contribute towards the problem of marine debris. Most notably, abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear has a considerable impact on marine species through ‘ghost fishing’.

Port waste reception facilities

MARPOL Annex V requires the government of each ratified nation to provide facilities at ports for the reception of ship generated residues and garbage that cannot be discharged into the sea. The facilities must be adequate to meet the needs of ships using the port, without causing undue delay to ships. However, MARPOL does not prescribe any set standards or provide for certification. The term ‘adequate’ is instead defined in a qualitative (rather than quantitative) manner in Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) resolution 83 (44).

Furthermore, MARPOL does not set any requirements regarding how waste delivered to port reception facilities should be managed. Only the non-mandatory MEPC resolution 83 (44) requires that facilities should allow for the ultimate disposal of ships’ wastes to take place in an environmentally appropriate way.

Cruise ships

Cruise ships operate in every ocean worldwide, often in pristine coastal waters and sensitive marine ecosystems. Operators provide amenities to their passengers similar to those of luxury resort hotels, generating up to 14 tonnes of waste per day. Worldwide, the cruise industry has experienced a compound annual passenger growth rate of 7% since 1990, and the number of passengers carried is expected to increase from approximately 21 million in 2013 to 23.7 million in 2017.

The majority of current legislation on pollution and ship waste was developed prior to the rapid growth of the cruise market; as a consequence, there is no international legislation addressing the particular issues surrounding pollution and waste management on these vessels.

Although there is not yet data to support this, intuitively the amount of waste produced by ships would be linked to the number of people on board, rather than the vessel’s gross tonnage (which determines whether MARPOL rules apply). If the industry grows as forecasted, cruise ships may be responsible for a significant proportion of waste generated by ships, particularly if unmanned are the future.

To address this, onboard waste management systems that implement zero disposal of solid waste at sea are needed for cruise ships, together with a requirement that they only dispose of their waste at ports with reception facilities adequate to handle the type and volume of waste produced.

Taking the Helm

Where international and regional legislation is found lacking a number of voluntary mechanisms have been devised, indicating an appetite to improve the current waste disposal practices of the shipping industry.

  • The indirect fee system aims to remove the disincentive for ships to dispose of waste at port rather than at sea by including the cost of waste disposal services in the port fees paid by visiting ships, irrespective of whether ships use the facilities
  • The Clean Shipping Index is an easy to use, transparent tool which can be used by cargo owners to evaluate the environmental performance of their sea transport providers. The information is entered on a ship-by-ship basis but is also added to a total carrier fleet score for an overall ranking. Questions on waste relate to garbage handling and crew awareness, and scores can only be obtained for measures that go beyond existing regulations.
  • One commercial container operator (Matson Navigation) has introduced a zero solid waste discharge policy. The ‘greentainer’ programme uses containers specifically designed for storing solid waste. Since 1994, this programme has prevented over 10,000 tonnes of garbage being disposed of at sea.

Currently, international legislation does not properly support a closed loop system for waste management onboard ships. Despite legislative progress and improvements in practice, the monitoring of waste from shipping remains problematic. ‘Policing the seas’ to verify what a ship discharges and where, and whether this follows recommended best practice, remains one of the most challenging aspects of waste management practice at sea, but critical to making the legal framework effective.

The United Nations Environment Programme neatly summarised the issue in 2005:“… marine litter is not a problem which can be solved only by means of legislation, law enforcement and technical solutions. It is a social problem which requires efforts to change behaviours, attitudes, management approaches and multi-sectoral involvement.” 

The limitations of international legislation governing the case of marine litter disposed of at sea do need to be addressed; but unless legislation is accompanied by environmental education for seafarers, and improved monitoring, our attempts to tackle this source of marine litter will remain all at sea.

Note: The article has been republished with the permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original version of the article can be found at this link.

Waste Disposal Methods: Perspectives for Africa

Waste disposal methods vary from city to city, state to state and region to region. It equally depends on the kind and type of waste generated. In determining the disposal method that a city or nation should adopt, some factors like type, kind, quantity, frequency, and forms of waste need to be considered.

For the purpose of this article, we will look at the three common waste disposal methods and the kind of waste they accept.

Open Dumping/Burning

This is the crudest means of disposing of waste and it is mostly practiced in rural areas, semi-urban settlements, and undeveloped urban areas. For open dumping or open burning, every type and form of waste (including household waste, hazardous wastes, tires, batteries, chemicals) is dumped in an open area within a community or outside different homes in a community and same being set on fire after a number of days or when the waste generator or community feels it should be burnt.

There is no gainsaying that the negative health and environmental impact of such practice are huge only if the propagators know better.

Controlled Dumping

This is apparent in most States in Nigeria, if not all and some cities in Africa like Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon, to mention but a few. It is a method of disposing of all kinds of waste in a designated area of land by waste collectors and it is usually controlled by the State or City Government.

Opening burning of trash is a common practice across Africa

Controlled dumps are commonly found in urban areas and because they are managed by the government, some dumps do have certain features of a landfill like tenure of usage, basic record keeping, waste covering, etc. Many cities in Nigeria confuse the practice of controlled dumping as landfilling but this not so because a landfill involves engineering design, planning, and operation.

Sanitary Landfill

A sanitary landfill is arguably the most desired waste management option in reducing or eliminating public health hazards and environmental pollution. The landfill is the final disposal site for all forms and types of waste after the recyclable materials must have been separated for other usages and other biodegradables have been extracted from the waste for use as compost, heat, or energy; or after incineration. These extractions can be done at household level or Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) operated by the government or private individuals.

As desirable as a landfill is, so many factors need to be put into consideration in its siting and operation plus it requires a huge investment in construction and operation. Some of these factors include but not limited to distance from the residential area, proximity to water bodies, water-table level of the area the landfill is to be sited, earth material availability, and access road.

Note: The original version of the article was published on Waste Watch Africa website at this link.

Progress of Waste-to-Energy in the USA

Rising rates of consumption necessitate an improved approach to resource management. Around the world, from Europe to Asia, governments have adapted their practices and policies to reflect renewability. They’ve invested in facilities that repurpose waste as source of energy, affording them a reliable and cheap source of energy.

This seems like progress, given the impracticality of older methods. Traditional sources of energy like fossil fuels are no longer a realistic option moving forward, not only for their finite nature but also within the context of the planet’s continued health. That said, the waste-to-energy sector is subject to scrutiny.

We’ll detail the reasons for this scrutiny, the waste-to-energy sector’s current status within the United States and speculations for the future. Through a concise analysis of obstacles and opportunities, we’ll provide a holistic perspective of the waste-to-energy progress, with a summation of its positive and negative attributes.

Status of Waste-to-Energy Sector

The U.S. currently employs 86 municipal waste-to-energy facilities across 25 states for the purpose of energy recovery. While several have expanded to manage additional waste, the last new facility opened in 1995. To understand this apparent lack of progress in the area of thermochemical treatment of MSW, budget represents a serious barrier.

One of the primary reasons behind the shortage of waste-to-energy facilities in the USA is their cost. The cost of construction on a new plant often exceeds $100 million, and larger plants require double or triple that figure to build. In addition to that, the economic benefits of the investment aren’t immediately noticeable.

The Palm Beach County Renewable Energy Facility is a RDF-based waste-to-energy (WTE) facility.

The U.S. also has a surplus of available land. Where smaller countries like Japan have limited space to work within, the U.S. can choose to pursue more financially viable options such as landfills. The expenses associated with a landfill are far less significant than those associated with a waste-to-energy facility.

Presently, the U.S. processes 14 percent of its trash in waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, which is still a substantial amount of refuse given today’s rate of consumption. On a larger scale, North America ranks third in the world in the waste-to-energy movement, behind the European nations and the Asia Pacific region.

Future of WTE Sector

Certain factors influence the framework of an energy policy. Government officials have to consider the projected increase in energy demand, concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, space-constrained or preferred land use, fuel availability and potential disruptions to the supply chain.

A waste-to-energy facility accounts for several of these factors, such as space constraints and fuel availability, but pollution remains an issue. Many argue that the incineration of trash isn’t an effective means of reducing waste or protecting the environment, and they have evidence to support this.

The waste-to-energy sector extends beyond MSW facilities, however. It also encompasses biofuel, which has seen an increase in popularity. The aviation industry has shown a growing dedication to biofuel, with United Airlines investing $30 million in the largest producer of aviation biofuel.

If the interest of United Airlines and other companies is any indication, the waste-to-energy sector will continue to expand. Though negative press and the high cost of waste-to-energy facilities may impede its progress, advances in technology promise to improve efficiency and reduce expenses.

Positives and Negatives

The waste-to-energy sector provides many benefits, allowing communities a method of repurposing their waste. It has negative aspects that are also important to note, like the potential for pollution. While the sector offers solutions, some of them come at a cost.

It’s true that resource management is essential, and adapting practices to meet high standards of renewability is critical to the planet’s health. However, it’s also necessary to recognize risk, and the waste-to-energy sector is not without its flaws. How those flaws will affect the sector moving forward is critical to consider.

Circular Economy: Viewpoint of Plastic

Pieces of plastic have been trying to get our attention. The first scientific reports of plastic pollution in oceans were in the early 1970s. This waste plastic soaks up other pollutants at up to a million times the concentration in water, harming and killing sea life worldwide. From the point of view of the plastic, we have convincingly failed with solutions. Over the past 40 years the problem has grown around 100 times, with now over 8 million tonnes of plastic waste added to oceans per year.

plastic-bottle

Everyone is aware about ways for plastic to not become waste. We can set up redesign, sharing, refill, recycling and even composting. When it comes to creating practical possibilities for not making waste, people are super smart. But when it comes to making policy to install this practice throughout the economy, which has been the aim of circular economy for the past four decades, we’re consistently collectively stupid. I call this mob thinking.

We have intelligent activists, business people, experts and officials unintentionally thinking like a mob? always bringing forward the same decades old policy weapons. When these weapons don’t work there is a discussion about strategy but not any actual new strategy, just talk about how forcefully to use the same old policy weapons. This is how it’s been possible for waste management, waste regulation and the unsolved waste problem to all grow in tandem for so long.

If the piece of plastic had a voice in the circular economy debate what might it say? It would remind us to beware mob thinking. Today’s problems are solvable only by trying new thinking and new policy weapons. Precycling is an example. The piece of plastic doesn’t mind whether it’s part of a product that’s longlife or refilled or shared or refurbished or recycled or even composted (so long as it’s fully biodegradable). It doesn’t even mind being called ‘waste’ so long as it’s on its way to a new use. Action that ensures any of these is precycling.

Our piece of plastic does mind about ending up as ecosystem waste. It does not wish to join 5 trillion other pieces of plastic abandoned in the world’s oceans. It would be horrified to poison a fish or starve a sea bird. Equally it does not want to be perpetually entombed in a landfill dump or transformed into climate destabilising greenhouse gases by incineration.

The two possible outcomes for a piece of plastic, remaining as a resource or being dumped as ecological waste, are the same fates awaiting every product. Our economies and our futures depend on our ambition in arranging the right outcome. The old policy weapons of prescriptive targets and taxes, trying to force more of one waste management outcome or less of another, are largely obsolete. Circular economy can be fully and quickly implemented by policy to make markets financially responsible for the risk of products becoming ecological waste. Some ever hopeful pieces of plastic would be grateful if we would get on with doing this.

Reference: Governments Going Circular best practice case study of precycling premiums

Wastes Generation in Tanneries

Wastes originate from all stages of leather making, such as fine leather particles, residues from various chemical discharges and reagents from different waste liquors comprising of large pieces of leather cuttings, trimmings and gross shavings, fleshing residues, solid hair debris and remnants of paper bags.

Tanning refers to the process by which collagen fibers in a hide react with a chemical agent (tannin, alum or other chemicals). However, the term leather tanning also commonly refers to the entire leather-making process. Hides and skins have the ability to absorb tannic acid and other chemical substances that prevent them from decaying, make them resistant to wetting, and keep them supple and durable. The flesh side of the hide or skin is much thicker and softer. The three types of hides and skins most often used in leather manufacture are from cattle, sheep, and pigs.

Out of 1000 kg of raw hide, nearly 850 kg is generated as solid wastes in leather processing. Only 150 Kg of the raw material is converted in to leather. A typical tannery generate huge amount of waste:

  • Fleshing: 56-60%
  • Chrome shaving, chrome splits and buffing dust: 35-40%
  • Skin trimming: 5-7%
  • Hair: 2-5%

Over 80 per cent of the organic pollution load in BOD terms emanates from the beamhouse (pre-tanning); much of this comes from degraded hide/skin and hair matter. During the tanning process at least 300 kg of chemicals (lime, salt etc.) are added per ton of hides. Excess of non-used salts will appear in the wastewater.

Because of the changing pH, these compounds can precipitate and contribute to the amount of solid waste or suspended solids. Every tanning process step, with the exception of finishing operations, produces wastewater. An average of 35 m3 is produced per ton of raw hide. The wastewater is made up of high concentration of salts, chromium, ammonia, dye and solvent chemicals etc.

A large amount of waste generated by tanneries is discharged in natural water bodies directly or indirectly through two open drains without any treatment. The water in the low lying areas in developing countries, like India and Bangladesh, is polluted in such a degree that it has become unsuitable for public uses. In summer when the rate of decomposition of the waste is higher, serious air pollution is caused in residential areas by producing intolerable obnoxious odours.

Tannery wastewater and solid wastes often find their way into surface water, where toxins are carried downstream and contaminate water used for bathing, cooking, swimming, and irrigation. Chromium waste can also seep into the soil and contaminate groundwater systems that provide drinking water for nearby communities. In addition, contamination in water can build up in aquatic animals, which are a common source of food.

Recycling of Lead-Acid Batteries in Developing Countries

Lead-acid batteries (also known as LABs) are a common item in our daily lives. Once the lead of the battery is timed out, we have no option but to dump it because it has no use for us anymore, but the copper plates in the battery remain reusable which can be used for recycling. There are some disagreements about the benefits of recycling battery, say alkaline battery, over simple disposal because the mercury in the battery no longer exists and the disposal material is abundant and non-toxic. But for automotive batteries the scenario is different in terms of benefits. The recycling of this type of battery holds both economic and environmental benefits.

The reusable material from the used battery is removed and recycled which reduces the needs for raw materials which is originally imported from abroad. It creates a balance payment and cost. In addition to this there can be considerable environmental impact during mining processes such as emission from smelting of sulfide ore, copper, nickel, and cobalt and this can be eliminated if recycling can be introduced.

Dangers of Lead-Acid Batteries

LABs generally consist of both sulphuric acid and large amount of lead which is not only corrosive but also a good carrier for soluble lead and lead particles. Lead is highly toxic metal which causes a wide range of adverse health effect especially on young children. If one gets expose excessively to lead it can cause damage to brain and kidney, impair hearing, and can led to various other associated problems. On an average an automobile manufactured contain about 12kg of lead, in which about 96% of lead is used in lead acid battery and remaining 4% is used in other applications like wheel balance weight, protective coating and variation dampers.

Both lead and cadmium are harmful for human health and environment. This toxic substances seeps into the soil, groundwater and surface water through landfill and also releases toxins into the air when they are burnt in municipal waste incinerators. Moreover cadmium can be easily absorbed by the pant root and get into the fruits, vegetables, and waters are consumed by animals and human beings, they can fall to prey to a host of ill effects. Studies have shown that nausea, excessive salivation, abdominal pain, liver and kidney damage, skin irritation, headaches, asthma, nervousness, decreased IQ in children, and sometimes even cancer can result from exposure to such metals for a sufficient period of time.

Need for Effective Control Measures

In a battery recycling plant, effective control measures need to be implemented, both to protect the health of workers and to prevent pollution of the environment. Good plant design, with reduction of the potential for the emission of contaminating substances is of utmost importance and the newer smelting processes are inherently much cleaner than traditional blast furnaces.

Pollution abatement technologies, including the treatment of exhaust gases and liquid effluents, need to be installed. Those mostly exposed to releases within the plants are the workforce. Control measures such as maintaining minimum standards of air quality within the works, medical surveillance of employees, use of protective equipment, and provision of conditions of good hygiene in general, is necessary to avoid occupational lead exposure. However, few government/non-governmental steps have been taken yet; rather this practice is a traditional trading system as prevail in the society.

Positive and Negative Impacts

In developing countries such as Bangladesh, recycling or reusing of used lead-acid batteries has both positive and negative impact on environment. Positive impact is that, if battery is recycled in proper and in sustainable manner it saves environment from toxic material of battery, otherwise battery waste is dumped into the landfills. Negative impact is that if recycling is not done in sustainable manner emits gases produced from battery recycling has adverse impacts on environment and human being.

In a battery recycling plant, effective control measures are required to safeguard public health and environment.

Direct recycling process should be banned as it has adverse impact on environment. As it is an illegal process, shopkeepers perform this process in hidden way. Government should impose the law and regulation strictly in this occurrence. This information can be used for advertising material highlighting the environmental benefits of recycling or reusing encourages the purchasing of old lead acid battery. It will accelerate the selling rate of old battery.

Importance of Awareness

Necessary steps should be taken to increase awareness about environmental impacts of used lead acid batteries. Proper instruction should be provided among the general mass. It will also increase reusing of old battery. Battery regeneration is a unique process specially designed to revive the lost capacity of batteries and give priority to choose secondary battery. Battery Reuse Centre can be developed for effective reuse and recycle.

The aim to divert reusable battery, donated by the public, which often could have been destined for landfill and instead provides a much needed source of low-cost battery to those in need. The battery reuse service encourages volunteer involvement and trainee placements in all aspects of its operation. Awareness program (posters, pamphlets, TV & radio commercials, road-shows, website, exhibitions, talks), infrastructure, information center, tax rebates for manufacturers should be taken to increase recycling or reusing of old battery.

Peeping into the Future of Waste

Waste management is an important tool for curbing climate change and for keeping our environment clean and healthy. Methane generated from biodegradable wastes is a powerful greenhouse gas, and when it’s not captured and used as a fuel it contributes to rapid warming of the atmosphere. Estimates suggest that biodegradable waste in dump sites and uncapped landfill sites are contributing far more methane to the atmosphere than previously thought. What’s more, urban food waste is predicted to increase by 44% from 2005 to 2025, and with no proper management in place, will significantly add to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Worryingly, 38 of the world’s 50 largest dumps are close to the sea, contributing to marine and coastal pollution. The accumulation of plastics in the marine food chain is causing global concern. While we don’t yet know how to clean the oceans, stemming the flow of waste into marine environments would be a step in the right direction.

Wasted health

40% of the world’s waste ends up in open dumps. These aren’t even what you’d call “landfill”. They don’t have any impervious lining to prevent noxious leachate from entering the surrounding environment, nor are they capped to prevent the spread of disease. In fact, in India, the Philippines and Indonesia, the health risk from open dumping of waste is greater than the risk of malaria[i].

3.5 billion people in the world lack access to proper waste management. That figure is expected to grow to 5 billion by 2050. Respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal diseases and occupational health risks add to the misery experienced by the 50,000+ people living from open dumps.

Waste is any material that is no longer wanted for its original purpose. The owner doesn’t have a need for it, and so discards it. Even valuable items can and do end up as waste purely because someone has thrown them away. The recent (and rather brilliant) BBC programme Hugh’s War on Waste shone the spotlight on attitudes towards disposable fashion. A look through the bins of a typical street uncovered a startling amount of clothing that had been thrown away, despite it still being in perfectly good condition. This highlights a simple fact: there is plenty of value in waste.

  • Estimates suggest there are 40 million people globally who are making their living from waste – half of these are working informally.
  • During the last recession in the UK, the waste management sector was one of the only industries to keep growing, resulting in it being termed the “Green Star of the Economy”.
  • Showing people how to turn a waste stream into something valuable isn’t rocket science. There are lots of examples of informal, community-based, grassroots recycling and upcycling projects that generate wealth for the poorest in society.
  • Internet is allowing simple waste processing techniques to be replicated all over the world, and helping make that information accessible is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my career.

Business skills

“Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. Show a man how to fish and he can eat for the rest of his life.” Teaching people how to make valuable products from waste is important. But just as important, is passing on the business skills to be able to identify a market, factor in costs, check out the competition, market their products and run a successful business.

Development work in the waste arena needs to address both sides of the coin, and in doing so will enable people to start up their own businesses, in their own communities, and generate wealth organically. That’s far more valuable than delivering aid in a ready-made package (which incidentally rarely works – there’s a great TED Talk on this topic by Ernesto Sirolli, called “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen”).

Why closing dumps isn’t a silver bullet

The proliferation of megacities, particularly in developing countries, is causing a health crisis. Decent waste management is an indicator of good governance – that is, if a council or government can collect taxes and provide a waste management service, then it most likely isn’t (very) corrupt. However, in many places where corruption or other forms of bad or weak governance prevail, top-down solutions are notoriously difficult to implement.

Often, when the world’s attention turns to an open dump, the government responds by closing it and the journalists go home. This is what happened with Smokey Mountain dumpsite in the Philippines (and many others around the world). All that happens is another open dump emerges nearby, and the scavengers move to the new site.

The problem is that if there is no alternative solution in place, people will discard of their waste in the only ways available – dumping it or burning it; and the poor will follow the waste.

Replacing an open dump with a government-controlled waste management system isn’t a silver bullet either. The losers, again, are the hundreds, and sometimes thousands of men, women and children who live from scavenging from the dump. It may seem horrific to many of us, but the truth is that if you take that opportunity to earn a paltry living away from the poorest in society, they will starve. Solutions need to be inclusive.

Power to the people

To close dump sites, you need to have a workable alternative solution in place. You need to have regular waste collection taking place, and you need somewhere to take it. Building materials recovery facilities alongside existing open dumps is one idea. Informal waste pickers who are currently working in dangerous conditions on the dumpsite can gain employment (or better still, form a cooperative) sorting recyclable materials and reducing the amount of real “waste” that needs to be disposed of.

For example, Wecyclers in Lagos, Nigeria employs people to cycle around collecting recyclable materials from households. In return for their source-separated waste, the householder receives a small reward.

In Bangalore, IGotGarbage has harnessed the power of phone apps to enable people who were previously waste pickers to be called directly to a house to collect the waste materials. Solutions like this work because they continue to provide livelihoods for people, while taking waste off the streets.

The need for appropriate technology

There will always be something left though: the stuff that really has little value other than the energy embodied in it. In industrialised countries, energy-from-waste incinerators have become popular. Seen as a clean alternative to landfill, these facilities burn the waste, release the energy, and convert it into heat, electricity and ash. Some of that ash (from the air pollution control system) still needs to be disposed of in specially-prepared hazardous waste landfill sites. The remainder, being fairly benign, can be used to make concrete building blocks.

However, incinerators are fairly technology-heavy, rendering them unsuitable for many developing country contexts.

A problem that we’ve witnessed is that waste management companies from industrialised nations try to wholesale their technology in developing countries. The technology is usually unaffordable, and even if the capital can be raised to procure a facility, as soon as something breaks down the whole solution can fall apart.

There is a need for information about simple waste processing technologies to become more open-sourced. Smart future-thinking businesses could capitalise on selling blueprints rather than entire prefabricated facilities. Most of the time it’s far cheaper to fabricate something locally, and also means that when something breaks it can be fixed.

The continuing need for landfill

The fact is that in most cases, a standard, lined landfill site with landfill gas capture is still the most appropriate answer for non-recyclable waste. Add to that a well-organised, low-cost waste collection service with source separation of recyclable materials and biodegradable waste, and you have a relatively affordable solution that is better for the climate, better for health, better for the local economy, and contributes to a more sustainable future.

Landfill may seem very unfashionable to those of us who work in the recycling sector, but nevertheless it will remain a necessity both in developed and developing countries for the foreseeable future.

Joining forces and stepping stones

The success of the Sustainable Development Goals and potential Climate Change Agreement depend on developed and developing countries working together. Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU climate commissioner, said the Climate Coalition alliance showed that developed and developing countries could work together with a common interest. “These negotiations are not about them and us. They are about all of us, developed and developing countries, finding common ground and solutions together. We urge other countries to join us. Together we can do it.”

Necessity is the mother of invention, and we are facing a waste crisis of unprecedented proportion. The potential for waste management in reducing GHG emissions has never been more pertinent. Waste and development practitioners, academics and entrepreneurs around the world are working together more and more to help bring about the change we want to see, which will benefit the billions of people suffering from poor waste management, and the rest of us who share a warming planet – and share the burden of climate change and poverty.

By sharing knowledge through platforms such as beWasteWise and ISWA, and through initiatives like WasteAidWASTE and Wiego, we can start making a dent in this very large problem.

No silver bullets, but lots of small stepping stones in the right direction.

Note: The original and unabridged version of the article can be found at this link. Please visit http://zlcomms.co.uk/ for more information about the author.