Methods of General Waste Disposal
There are numerous ways in which our waste is treated or handled nowadays. While in the past waste was just thrown into landfill and then either buried or left to rot, a whole range of waste management industries have developed in recent years to deal with everything from home rubbish, industrial and commercial waste to hazardous and clinical waste.
All waste that cannot be recycled or reused in some way (for example, for energy production) can be handled in a number of different ways. The common process is to use the waste hierarchy as a guide: this stipulates that we should first reuse, then recycle and repurpose and then, as a last resort dispose of.
Landfill for General Waste Disposal
Landfill was generally seen as a cheap and easy way of disposing of our waste products. In the UK, there are a number of sites that have been mined for minerals which eventually need to be filled in and our rubbish has long been used as a suitable solution for this particular problem. We currently send around 111 million tonnes of what is termed controlled waste to landfill and there are strict conditions under which this operates. For instance, once a landfill site is full, it must be ‘capped’ or covered over and landscaped. All landfill sites need to have the appropriate waste management licence and meet certain conditions if they are to operate and are under the control of the Waste Regulation Authorities operated by many councils.
Much is dictated by legislation from the EU of which the most important is the Landfill Directive which is concerned with reducing the amount of bio-degradable waste that is going to these sites and includes improving areas such as recycling, composting and energy production such as biomass. The big move is to make sure we send less to landfill and find other, more innovative ways of dealing with our waste.
Another way of getting rid of waste is, of course, to burn it. Incineration is carried out on both a small and industrial scale, is used to get rid of solid, liquid and gaseous waste and is often used to handle hazardous waste. It is more common in countries such as Japan where there is not enough space to have landfill sites and is often linked to waste-to-energy systems that convert the waste burned in a furnace to heat, steam and electricity. In recent years, however, incineration has come under scrutiny because of its potential to produce toxic gases which are then released into the atmosphere.
Find out more about energy recovery from waste.
In the UK, many NHS hospitals used to have an onsite incinerator to burn hazardous waste until new legislation came into effect in the early 1990s. After that, and because many individual hospitals couldn’t comply with the new rules, many elected to develop new, shared systems that could be used to get rid of waste. This same legislation also effected larger, industrial scale incinerators at the end of the last century and many had to shut down. Many industries use a process called pyrolysis which works at extreme temperatures and can produce liquid fuel for feedstocks as well as charcoal and is currently being looked at as a solution to many waste products.
Of course, one of the major advances in recent years as we seek to decrease our collective impact on the environment is the development of better recycling practices. We are all used nowadays to having different bins that we split waste into, whether that’s plastic bottles, glass or cardboard, to name the three most popular. While there is still variation in what cities and towns recycle, depending on their resources, there’s no doubt that this practice has made a big difference to the amount of actual waste we produce.
It benefits us enormously:
- Recycling paper produces almost 3 quarters less air pollution than making it from scratch.
- We use nearly 15 million plastic bottles each day which can all be reused or recycled.
- Glass is 100% recyclable and can be used over and over again without degrading.
- We throw away over £36 million worth of aluminium in the form of cans every year.
Biological Reprocessing and Waste to Energy
A large portion of what we throw away every day is actually biodegradable. Food waste can be used in composting, providing vital nutrients for our soil. On farms, the trend is towards anaerobic digestion which can be used to create valuable energy as well as fertiliser.
Energy recover from waste is probably the most exciting development in recent years. This includes such processes as biomass energy production, pyrolysis, and gasification.
Another growing area of waste management, though not considered as such in the strictest sense, is resource recovery. A number of the products we throw away nowadays have components that could be reused if extracted. For example, a computer hard drive that goes to landfill would have a number of different metals and other valuable components that could be separated and recycled. It’s considered a financially cost effective way to make the most of recycling and could mean that less of that television or fridge that you throw away goes to landfill.
Find out about different types of waste here.