It is clear these days that world is being overrun with waste. You cannot help but notice all the articles that talk about landfills being decommissioned as they fill to capacity, or the huge amounts of refuse being shipped to far off places that will still accept those shipments. And those are the good stories. In the developing world, people are essentially living in their waste. Waterways and roadsides are being inundated with an endless stream of consumer and industrial by-products that are poisoning the landscape and fouling water supplies. This has created a living hell for the populations that live among the squalor. In Africa alone, thousands die each day from water borne illnesses caused by drinking from polluted sources.
So it comes as no surprise that countries and municipalities are turning to any solution that makes sense to reduce their waste if they can find a good use for it. At the same time one of the major issues facing the developing world is the lack of an adequate power supply and a dependable electrical grid to support their new growth and expanding population. This has opened the door for an entire industry which has been created around burning stocks of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to create electricity. On the surface this would appear to be a wonderful solution that directly solves two problems with one simple technology. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Waste has a finite value that most people fail to grasp. Within the average municipal waste streams are a variety of extremely valuable components that are easily extracted using today’s advanced technologies. These new technologies allow these waste streams to be harvested in very specific ways extracting those components that are of highest value while utilizing the entire remainder of the waste stream for other productive purposes. This can be achieved while producing virtually no harmful bi-products. The misuse of burning garbage for electricity on the other hand, is notorious for the air pollution and toxic ash that remains as a residue of that process. So in order to maximize the value of that waste we create and derive
the greatest return while reducing environmental impact, it is essential that the waste stream be prioritized and managed for maximum value.
This strategy will become increasingly important in the years ahead. The reason is equally obvious, economics. As an example, say you were a fisherman and the fish that you were able to catch were sturgeon from which you then harvested caviar. Now you could feed your family all the caviar you harvested. After all, your family must eat. However, if the fisherman was smart, he could sell that very valuable caviar on the open market. Then with the money he earned at market, the fisherman could purchase all the food his family would need and still have extra money left over to pay for a better place to live, a better boat, or anything else he might want with the additional money. This strategy makes far greater sense then eating all of the caviar in an effort to feed his family and having nothing left over.
This analogy has a very direct comparison to the the folly of using waste to create electricity. The value of the waste harvested for its processed components (Syn-fuels and gases, fertilizers, rare earths, metals, activated carbon, and carbon black) far surpass the value derived from burning it for electricity.
Additionally, there are new technologies (hydrogen, nano-solar, energy amplification, etc…) that will soon be in distribution within the next 3 years that will dramatically reduce the cost and ease of producing large quantities of renewable energy (electricity). So if you managed your waste stream correctly, you could still have all the energy you would need from these new systems that you would purchase with your profits, and still have additional funds for building schools, hospitals, roads, and generally improving local living conditions.
You would also end up creating a whole new generation of jobs that would end up contributing and growing the local economy through reuse of the feed stocks for industry, and the distribution of the recycled products. This will be increasingly clear in the years to come as global resources become scarcer and our reliance on recycled feed stocks increase for the basic materials we require for business and industry. To commit your waste resources to such a short sighted end as burning it is ultimately bad business. One way, you maximize the value of you resource and create jobs, with the other, you are left with air pollution and toxic ash.
Waste is a resource. It is the residue of products that were mined, harvested, milled, and otherwise produced that have outlived their usefulness. That does not mean that they have outlived their value. Managed properly, waste can provide a cornerstone for economic development, job growth, and social improvement. So let’s not treat our waste like garbage!