The world is drowning in waste. ‘Litterally’.
Waste volumes are driven by population growth and prosperity. Waste growth has proven to be recession proof and continues to grow regardless of economic and political sentiment. Municipal waste congests, pollutes, and kills people in growing cities across the globe. Industrial waste bottlenecks are preventing companies and economies from growing. The pollution from waste also knows no site-, municipal-, or national boundaries – it is becoming one of the big geopolitical challenges of our planet, right up there with water, energy, and climate.
On the ‘positive’ side, there is increasing awareness of the damage and costs to environment and health
Landfills, but also previously considered ‘clean’ technologies such as incineration, create problems hundreds of years into the future caused by pollution. Landfills leak greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere as well as leaching heavy metals and other contaminants into soil and ground water. Incineration’s pollution load is high (mainly dioxins and furans), which drives high capex and opex to bring pollution footprint to public acceptable levels.
The drive towards a circular economy
Selling performance rather than ‘stuff’ will also provide business driven incentives towards designing out waste and treating waste more as a resource. But even ambitious targets like the EU’s ‘65% of all household waste recycled by 2030’ leave very large amounts of very difficult waste to treat – and developing and emerging economies are very far from those targets. The EU has also regulated that 65% of all waste be diverted from landfills by 2016. And keep in mind that ‘90% of the raw materials used in manufacturing become waste before the product leaves the factory’ (Rubbish!, 2005).
Stakeholders along the entire waste value chain are struggling
They struggle with with increasing volumes, tightening regulations, shrinking space, challenging logistics, and social license to operate both landfills and incineration – both being the very definition of centralized NIMBY technologies (Not In My Back Yard). NIMBY by definition results in centralized solutions, which adds emissions strain from road-congesting transportation (particle emissions, economic loss) to collect waste. And also investments in transmission and distribution of energy – with the heat produced from incineration often being wasted due to absence of thermal clients in remote locations.
A bankable waste solution viable for the future
Will inevitably have to be: a) a full-stop no-future-liabilities solution, b) a distributed solution to de-congest the waste system and reach high final energy efficiency, and c) supporting a highly circular economy with an attractive total system cost over lifecycle.