Did you know that 40% of the world’s waste is not treated sustainably and that a large percentage of this overflows into the ocean? This is one of the main contributing factors to the rise of plastic pollution.
What is the technical definition of waste?
Waste can be defined as anything that is eliminated or discarded when it is no longer useful or required. In 2016 alone, the UK generated 222.9 million tonnes of waste, with an estimated 41.1 million tonnes of it classified as commercial and industrial waste.
We have seen huge advances in recycling activity in recent years. For example, in 2016, 48.5% (104.0 million tonnes) of waste was dealt with via recycling and recovery processes.
However, 24.4% (or 52.3 million tonnes) of waste produced in the UK that year was still sent to landfill. The reason why a significant percentage of waste continues to be sent to landfill is due to a limited capacity to process waste more sustainably, through methods such as refused derived fuel (RDF) and energy from waste (EfW) treatment. Because both of these waste treatment options remain in their infancy – particularly within the UK – local authorities and companies often have no other choice but to send waste to landfills.
Thankfully, more and more businesses have been actively engaged in searching for, and helping to create, viable and sustainable waste-handling alternatives. As more of these sustainable methods are established, the environmental damages caused by traditional landfill treatment can be mitigated.
The consequences of landfill waste disposal
The method of treating waste by sending it to landfill sites to decompose has several disadvantages. These include:
- Air pollution - a high percentage of landfill sites contain biodegradable organic matter. As these materials decompose, they release methane – a potent greenhouse gas that is harmful to the environment
- Unfavourable biodiversity impacts - landfill treatment has also been proven to negatively affect local vegetation, mammals and birds
- Groundwater contamination - the presence of rainwater on landfill sites enables dangerous materials to dissolve and devolve into highly toxic chemicals
- Detrimental soil fertilisation effects - cross-contamination from toxic substances can greatly damage soil quality in places that contain landfills
- Inhibited resource conservation - landfill treatment inhibits the conservation of resources by cutting down on the recycling of energy intensive materials, such as aluminium - which expends 95% less energy than manufacturing it from scratch
Sustainable waste-disposal alternatives
Luckily, landfill processing is not the only available waste-handling option. In fact, other waste treatment methods can serve as effective – and far more sustainable – alternatives. This is highlighted through the waste hierarchy pyramid, which defines the various waste treatment methods and categorises their relative sustainability benefits, from most to least favourable:
- Prevention – reducing the percentage of waste that is produced in the first place
- Recycling – composting and repurposing of waste materials
- Recovery – recovering energy through incineration of waste
- Disposal – incinerating waste without energy recovery and/or diverting waste materials to landfills
In composting, bioorganic (animal and plant-based) waste is disposed separately to that of general and recyclable materials. This method enables the organic waste to biodegrade into compost, without running the risk of it contaminating recyclable plastic waste.
The recycling process essentially breaks down reusable materials and resources, in preparation for them to be used again. The repurposing of certain recyclable materials can be incredibly beneficial for the environment.
Waste-to-energy incineration is a particularly intriguing and sustainable treatment method, which also presents significant commercial benefits. It involves generating energy from the heating or burning of either unprocessed waste or a refined specification of waste known as refuse derived fuel (RDF).
The energy produced in this process can then be used to supply power to a vast amount of homes, businesses and industrial properties. Waste-to-energy incineration, used throughout mainland Europe and Scandinavia, also promotes a reduction in carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption.
Seneca Resource Recovery – helping to facilitate waste-to-energy incineration
Seneca Resource Recovery – part of the Carey Group of companies – is a leading UK waste and recovery company, which specialises in the conservation of resources through the production, brokerage and international export of RDF.
One of the UK’s largest RDF exporters, we have established ourselves as a trusted fuel-supply partner to several of Europe’s leading energy from waste (EfW) plants, which carry out waste-to-energy incineration on a large scale.
Because of the long-term EfW supply partnerships that we have established, we are able to offer highly effective and sustainable treatment services for municipal, commercial/industrial and construction waste streams. This helps us to consistently deliver almost 100% landfill diversion.
We provide a wide range of services, including:
- RDF production
- RDF brokerage
- Waste processing
- Emergency waste clearance
- Biomass fuel production
To find out more about our capabilities and specialist services, please click here.