Solid Waste & Recycling


Waste Elimination Opportunities

I am frequently asked about what will be the next big thing in the waste industry. My common response is... everything! More municipal and industrial recycling, more companies finding new ways of making things from residuals, more...

I am frequently asked about what will be the next big thing in the waste industry. My common response is… everything! More municipal and industrial recycling, more companies finding new ways of making things from residuals, more companies learning to eliminate specific waste streams, and more energy recovery from waste.

I see all these things happening to varying degrees. 

To date, the success or failure of any of these waste and recycling activities has been determined by the cost of landfilling. Cheap landfilling makes it very difficult to decide to do anything with waste other than dispose of it.

Despite access to cheap landfilling in North America, industries are doggedly determined to find alternatives and seek new opportunities, some of which are discussed here.

Landfill free

If landfill is so cheap and the bottom line so important why are major global companies focusing on becoming landfill free? General Motors is the latest company to proudly announce that one of its facilities (its parts distribution facility in Lansing Michigan) is landfill free. Add Unilever, Hewlett-Packard, and Xerox to the list of a growing number companies focused on zero landfill.

Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, has made the pledge to three overarching sustainability goals: use 100 percent renewable energy, operate at zero waste, and sell products that are socially and environmentally sustainable.

Municipalities around the world are also focused on reducing their dependency on landfill. For example, the Scottish Government launched a Zero Waste Plan in 2010. Under the plan, all waste is seen as a resource that is too valuable to be disposed of in landfills. One aspect of the plan calls for landfill bans for specific waste types. Another key aspect is the development of a Waste Prevention Program for all wastes with a focus on prevention and reuse of waste as priorities.

The growing focus on zero landfilling from major corporate entities is good news for companies focused on reuse, recycling, and recovery of energy from waste.

Dismantling and recycling

According to Boeing, there will be a rapid increase in demand for aircraft dismantling and recycling services. The demand will be created by accelerated fleet renewal that will result in the doubling of airplanes leaving the global fleet in the next decade.

The cause for the accelerated fleet renewal is fuel costs. Newer planes reduce fuel costs by 20 percent, justifying the higher rate of fleet replacement. 

Boeing, like other airplane manufacturers, has sustainability goals including one that calls for 90 per cent of airplanes to be recycled by 2016. Also, the company is focused on the utilization of recycled material — good news for recyclers and recycled product developers.

Success awaits companies that develop efficient, cost-effective dismantling and recycling capabilities and firms that manufacture aircraft components from recycled and reclaimed material.

Energy and new products

Energy recovery from waste is a no brainer in Europe and is slowly gaining momentum in North America. Advanced thermal treatment technologies have been finding a niche in the waste-to-energy market.

Recently, Innovative Environmental Solutions — a joint venture between a European metal recycler and a New Jersey gasification technology manufacturer — announced that it’s developing a full-scale gasification facility near Birmingham, England. When complete the facility will convert the energy from 350,000 tonnes per year of shredder residue from end-of-life vehicles and household appliances in 40 MW of electricity.

Another niche advanced thermal treatment venture is occurring in Vancouver. Klean Industries recently began full-scale production of nano carbons through the pyrolysis of waste tires. The company is using its patented technology to produce high grade nanotubes and fullerenes (the nano material used in a wide variety of applications and products).

I don’t know why smokers feel they can just throw cigarette butts on the ground. Perhaps they think the butts are degradable (they’re not0. A cigarette filter is 95 per cent acetate cellulose (a plastic) with the remainder being paper and glue. Toronto-based Terracycle recently launched a program to collect and recycle cigarette waste in Canada. The plastic found in butts will be used in the manufacture of plastic pallets while the paper and remaining tobacco from the butts will be composted.

New companies entering the waste management sector that specialize in waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and recovery should not be discouraged. It’s clear that the world is moving to reduce waste to landfill. Opportunities for utilization of 4R technologies will continue to grow.

John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at

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