The next evolution in computing — quantum computers — will make the fastest current-day computer look like an abacus, or so I am told. What is the next evolutionary step in solid waste and recycling?
The easy answer may be Zero Waste but most realistic waste management professionals estimate that is 20 to 30 years off. In the meantime, what will evolve from the current methods of waste management and recycling?
Waste-to-<Insert Product Here>
I continue to be amazed by the number of entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers and companies coming up with new products from various waste streams. Some products are fast becoming mainstream household items such as recycled plastic decking and deck furniture, car parts, and even clothing (made from recycled PET plastic).
The challenge of contaminants in the feedstock (after all, it is considered waste by the originator), production costs, and selling price of the item remain. One of the biggest downfalls I’ve seen in waste-to-product companies is their naivety on profitability. My view is that a company should be able to at least break even on getting paid for the feedstock if it expects to be profitable.
An excellent example of a waste-to-products company can be seen at Greys Paper Recycling Industries Ltd. in Edmonton. Operations began in 2012 with the company making professional-grade paper through a process combining recycled office paper with recycled cotton, without the need for bleaching chemicals. The business model of the facility is based on the fact that it can be produced at lower cost than virgin paper manufacturing.
The Founder and President of the company, Rajan Ahluwalia, is an example of the type of entrepreneur fuelling waste-to-product innovations. His desire to create a closed-loop paper recycling system grew out of his worldwide travels where he witnessed deforestation firsthand.
Fuels derived from waste
The waste-energy nexus is upon us. The conventional thinking on waste-to-energy has grown to include fuels-from-waste. The advantage of fuels from waste is that the energy is stored (either in solid, liquid, or gaseous form) for future use in transportation, heating, or electricity generation.
The number of companies exploring the production of energy/fuel from waste is expanding rapidly. In Sweden, the percentage of energy (heat, electricity, transportation fuels) produced from waste and/or renewable sources (i.e., forest residue) is fast approaching 50 per cent. In fact, Sweden aims to be the world’s first oil-free nation by 2020. The fact that Canada (with a very similar climate) is nowhere near that percentage, but has the resources to do so, is evidence of the potential growth.
Proof of the promising future of fuels derived from waste is the recent solicitation of proposals by the Canadian government to retrofit naval ships with biofuel. (The U.S. navy is already in the process of converting an entire aircraft carrier strike group with alternative fuel by 2016.)
Despite the setbacks and issues associated with extended producer responsibility (EPR) in Canada, they are many reasons why EPR is set to grow. For starters, the time, effort, and expense required to get any major waste disposal facility approved and built is increasing, and are often borne by government. With EPR, the government requires manufacturers to take responsibility of dealing with their end-of-life products.
Several provinces have enabling blanket EPR legislation that could, in principle, cover any product.
With the current fiscal deficits of existing government and spending priorities other than waste disposal facilities, it only makes sense that government will unload more responsibility for waste management on the producers, hoping they will ultimately design waste right out of their products and packaging.
A June 2012 report by the British Columbia Ministry of the Environ-ment forecasting solid waste generation provides strong evidence of the bold predictions on the growth of industry stewardship programs. Under three forecast scenarios in the report, it was predicted that industry stewardship programs would grow anywhere from 292 per cent to 496 per cent from the 2010 amount of 242,000 tonnes (which accounted for
11 per cent of the generated waste stream).
Successful EPR exists for materials such as tires, electrical and electronic equipment, motor oil, beer and wine bottles, etc. and the list is growing. Possible candidates include carpeting, mattresses and sofas, and packaging. (See related EPR article on page 26.)
John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org