Chemgeneration News
Share with others


Don’t waste your waste!

  • 4-19-2012

Don’t waste your waste!

Waste is not a pleasant thing to think about. We simply dump it in the waste bin, and who cares whether it finishes in an incinerator or in the ocean or on the Moon… However, waste is our “by-product”, which we can utilize in several astonishing ways.

What is recycling about?

Recycling is the breaking down of the used items into raw materials, which are used to make new items or to produce secondary, reusable materials, which can replace natural ones. The objective of recycling is to conserve the Earth’s resources, for example, by felling fewer trees for paper production; in fact, producing one ton of paper requires at least 2-3.5 tons of wood. Reducing the amount of waste getting back into the nature is another important aspect. This is quite a challenge, as people in the European Union alone produce approx. 1,3 billion tons of waste on a yearly basis.

Sorting is a key factor

Recycling starts with waste sorting: this is why it is important that households collect recyclates separately from the general waste stream. There is a growing number of publicly available curbside collection bins, where you can dump five different types of waste: metal, clear glass, coloured glass, paper and plastic. The collected materials are then reprocessed into new materials bound for manufacturing. A part of the PET bottles, for instance, are recycled in the textile industry and used to produce raw materials for a variety of clothes.

Electronic waste recycling also forms part of the overall recycling process. This is important because obsolete electronic equipment often contains contaminants such as lead, mercury, chrome or cadmium, which dispersed in the soil, air or water, cause a wide range of serious pollution problems . Separately collected electronic waste is dismantled into its various parts, processed in smelters, and its chemical substances are neutralized.

Recycling in Europe is especially common in Germany (48%), followed by Belgium and Sweden (36-36%), and then by Slovenia and Denmark (34%). It is also true that the Danish produce the largest amount of waste: 833 kg/person on an annual basis.

Organic waste can (and has to) be reused as well

Although biodegradable green waste usually decomposes by itself, it is worth colleting and reusing it for composting purposes. The first step is to collect organic waste, such as leftover lettuce, old bunches of flowers, potato peelings, coffee grounds, separately, which may be a bothersome and unhygienic task for many.

BASF Ecovio

However, there is a solution to this problem: the recently introduced compostable plastic bags biodegrade within four weeks in an industrial composting plant. How come? It is plastic! The explanation lies in the composition of the plastic itself: the material comprises a partly petroleum-based, compostable plastic called Ecoflex® FS, and polylactic acid made from corn starch. Polylactic acid, which is derived solely from renewable raw materials when combined with Ecoflex®, a flexible plastic is created that can be used to manufacture a variety of products, including bin liners. In the controlled conditions of an industrial composting plant – high temperature and humidity, defined oxygen levels – microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria break the plastic down into water, carbon dioxide and biomass. In other words, they transform the bag and the bio-waste into valuable compost.

The bin liners are strong and tear-resistant, even if the waste inside is wet. Liquid from tea bags or fruit leftovers does not seep through – reducing unpleasant odours.

Find out more about how biodegradable bin liners work:

Waste-to-energy

But what is compost used for? The simplest way is to use it as manure for crops. There is, however, a much efficient and trendy solution: biogas production. All kinds of organic matters, including farmyard manure, can be utilized for biogas production. Biogas is produced by the anaerobic digestion (a series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable materials in the absence of oxygen) of biodegradable materials. Biogas contains approx. 45-70% of methane, which can be combusted, and the energy release allows biogas to be used as a fuel. Bioreactors are often built on animal farms and the resulting energy is used to provide energy for cooking, heating, along with powering the entire farm, which can sustain themselves from an energetic point of view.

Did you know?

There is a huge island of trash floating on the surface of the North Pacific Ocean. Public awareness about the Great Garbage Patch was first raised in a 1988 paper published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States. The garbage patch is the result of high concentrations of marine debris, especially plastics, accumulating in regions governed by ocean currents. The estimated size of the patch is millions (!) of square kilometers. The mass of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to amount to as much as several millions of tons. And it is public knowledge that some of the long-lasting plastics in the patch end up in the stomachs of animals, and the floating debris can absorb organic pollutants from seawater.

Interesting facts

A church and a community house are being built out of trash in a small Scottish town. So far, four tons of old beer cans, a dozen shipping containers, three hundred industrial pallets and about five hundred car tires have been used to set up the new buildings. Future plans include a theatre, a café, a picture gallery and an office building – built out of trash, of course.