Monday, June 17, 2013

UK Waste management: Growing old or growing clean?


UK Waste Management: Growing old or growing clean?
Image Credit: Viridor
Recycling, composting and waste to energy go hand in hand in the UK, which strives for sustainable waste management. In order to assess what the best alternatives are, it's important to first understand the generation and composition of municipal solid waste. A recent academic study by Columbia University set out to do just that.
By Nickolas Themelis and Athanasios Bourtsalas
As the UK strives to achieve its obligations under the EU Landfill Directive, it has turned increasingly to a range of alternative disposal options. These include increased recycling, composting, anaerobic digestion and the use of thermal treatment facilities to recover energy from waste.
Many new facilities have entered service over recent years and several others are in the pipeline. But to ensure the correct mix of technologies are deployed, it is impostant to first understand the composition of the waste to be treated.
With this in mind the objective of the recent study was to carry out a critical analysis and cross check various sets of data - either already available in current literature or solicited from various government agencies - and develop information which can guide the future research of the Waste to Energy Research and Technology Council UK (WTERT-UK) - headquartered at Imperial College London.
The research presents a detailed analysis of the current management of municipal solid wastes (MSW) in the UK and future challenges. It includes characterisation of the generation and disposition of MSW at the national and regional levels.

MSW Production & Composition

Recycling, changing habits due to the economic slump and the successful application of sustainable waste management programmes have resulted in a reduction to the generation of MSW in the UK.
According to figures published by the UK government's Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), in 2012 the UK produced about 31 million tonnes of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). The figures show that this MSW consists mostly of residential, commercial and market wastes, with the reported 31.1 million tonnes generated in 2012 representing an 11% decrease compared to 2007, and 13.1%, decrease from 2002. The per capita generation was 0.49 tonnes, and ranged from a high of 0.60 in Scotland to a low of 0.48 tonnes per capita in England.
The generation of MSW is predicted to continue to decrease over the next 20 years from 32.3 million tonnes in 2010 to 29.5 million tonnes in 2030. This forecast is based on the Bogner and Matthews model, which shows a linear relationship between the energy consumption of a nation and its generation of MSW, as well as on an energy consumption forecast published by the UK government's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
The average composition and calorific value of MSW in the UK is calculated to be 12 MJ/kg. This value corresponds to an equivalent of 3.3 MW per tonne of waste per hour. Plastics have the highest calorific value, contributing 8.8% to the total calorific value of MSW. Waste paper and cardboard reperesent the highest percentage in the total composition of the UK MSW, while also contributing a large fraction of the calorific value of MSW (Table 1).
table 1
In recent years, a combination of recycling and composting has become the largest means of managing wastes, accounting for 26.7% and 15.5%, respectively, of the total MSW generated. A total of 73% of the composted waste is treated in open air windrows . However, 40.3% is still sent to landfill while only 16% is combusted in 24 waste to energy facilities which recover 1594 GWh of electricity annually - this equates to som 0.41 MWh of electricity generated for every tonne of MSW combusted.

Reuse, Recycling & Composting

As noted, recycling/reuse together with composting have become the dominant methods of waste management in the UK, accounting for 42.2% of the total MSW. In 2012 a total of 13.1 million tonnes of MSW was recycled or composted in the UK, representing an increase of 27.3% since 2002. The per capita recycling and composting for UK residents is 0.21 tonnes. England recycles and composts the least with 0.20 tonnes per capita (42% of the total MSW produced in England) , followed by Northern Ireland (0.21; 39% of the total MSW produced in N. Ireland), Wales and Scotland (0.25 each; 50.1% and 42% of the total MSW produced in each country accordingly).
According to the Anaerobic Digestion & Biogas Association (ADBA) there are currently well over 100 operational anaerobic digesters, not counting those operating at water treatment facilities.
In 2012, there were also 203 composting sites (149 open windrow, 41 in-vessel and 13 combined open windrow and in-vessel), the majority of which are located in the east of England (38), followed by the south east (35) and north west (27).
In the same year, there were 2341 recycling facilities operating, 749 of which processed end-of-life vehicles (ELV), 761 were vehicle dismantling facilities, 60 vehicle de-pollution sites and 771 metal recycling plants.


The 40.3% of MSW landfilled in the UK is sent to the country's 725 active landfill sites; producing some 4979 GWh of electricity from the methane recovered. Notably, almost 1700 landfill sites have stopped operation since 2001, showing that the country is moving away from landfill as an option for waste management.
England is landfilling less with 0.18 tonnes per capita, followed by Wales (0.23), N. Ireland (0.32) and Scotland (0.33).

Energy Recovery

Of the total MSW produced in the UK in 2012 some 16.1% was processed in waste to energy plants. This accounted for some 5% of the country's total Renewable Energy Sources (RES) - an increase in the contribution of made by waste to energy plants of some 300% since 1996. A total of 1739 GWh electricity and heat combined.
There are 24 plants currently operating, while 14 new facilities are in various stages of construction. In England, 0.09 tonnes per capita were processed in Waste to Energy plants in 2011/12. In Scotland and Wales, however, only 0.02 tonnes per capita was sent to energy recovery facilities. There was no energy recovery at all in Northern Ireland.
Additionally, Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) facilities in England processed 1.4% of the total MSW generated in the UK in 2012 to produce Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF) or Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF). This percentage corresponds to only 0.008 tonnes per capita.
In Scotland and in Northern Ireland there are no MBT plants, while in Wales 0.005 tonnes per capita were processed into RDF. In total, there was an increase of 0.8% of MSW treated by MBT plants since 2002.
In total, there are about 19 facilities in the UK using various MBT processes with a production capacity of approximately one million tonnes of SRF, used mainly in the cement industry.
The total energy produced by bioenergy based technologies and waste treatment operation sites was 12,973 GWh. This represented an increase in energy production these sources of 620% from 1996.
The oil equivalent of the energy produced from wastes in 2011 was 750 thousand tonnes. Of this 717,300 tonnes equivalent was due to the production of electricity from waste – an increase of 928% since 1990. An additional 32,700 tonnes of oil equivalent came from the generation of heat from wastes.

The economics of Waste management in the Uk

The gate fee for landfilling lies between £73 and £127 per tonne, with the median fee paid by local authorities in 2012 being £85 per tonne. By contrast, the average gate fee paid at an MRF was just £9 per tonne of recyclable materials, or £26 per tonne at facilities which entered service after 2011.
table 2
Open air windrow composting sites averaged £24 per tonne, in-vessel composting and anaerobic digestions plants both charged £43 per tonne.
The gate fee paid by local authorities at waste to energy plants was £54 per tonne for those facilities built prior to 2000 and £73 per tonne of for plants built after the year 2000. The gate fees at MBT plants were £84 per tonne of waste. It is clear to see then, that the most economically viable form of waste management, other than prevention, is the reuse and recycling of materials, with an average gate fee of only £9 per tonne of waste.

Conclusions on the Global status of waste management in the uk

A Chinese proverb states: "The longest journey starts with a single step". This reflects the progress made towards improving the waste management situation in the UK.
The country has rapidly increased its sustainable waste management practices over recent years, and has achieved this by placing an emphasis on recycling and composting. This is while also significantly increasing its waste to energy capacity. Using statistics provided by Eurostat, the Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants (CEWEP) and the published data of several other nations, the global waste management 'ladder' (p45), along with the position of UK on the ladder.
The concept is to show that nations that recycle more of their municipal solid waste, and process more of their residual MSW in waste to energy facilities, therefore less landfilling, are higher up the ladder of sustainable waste management.
The countries were ranked according to their result on the formula below, where waste to energy (WTE) includes MBT facilities:
r= 1.2*(Recycling + Composting) %+WtE%
Taking into account that the UK's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita (on a purchasing power parity basis) is approximately 1.1 times higher than the European average, as well as its position on the global sustainable waste management ladder, the country is below several other European nations.
Therefore, while the UK has now taken several steps on its journey towards sustainable waste management practices, the road is long and there is considerable room for further advancement.
Professor Nickolas J. Themelis is director of the Earth Engineering Centre, Columbia University and chair of the global WTERT Council
Athanasios C. Bourtsalas is a doctoral student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London and is also a research associate at the Earth Engineering Centre, Columbia University.
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Original article on Waste Management World:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Nickolas Themelis on Waste-to-Energy for New York City

New York City spends $ 200 billion per year on municipal solid waste management. Out of this $ 300 million is spent on just trawler trucks traveling 40 million miles using fossil fuels to transport waste. (Source: "Tax In, Garbage Out" (PDF) published in 2012 by New York Citizen's Budget Commission). The report goes on to suggest significant changes to New York City's waste management system, which includes the building of local waste-to-energy facilities.

Below is Professor Nickolas Themelis comment on New York City's waste management problem:
Report from New York Citizens Budget Commission is another blue ribbon report documenting the great need for NYC (New York City) to move to waste-to-energy. But any time Mayor Bloomberg starts to deal with this need, he is soon cowered by a vociferous small minority that lives in the past.
Here, Professor Themelis is referring to the opposition to building waste-to-energy facilities in New York City, based on idealism and outdated knowledge of waste-to-energy technology. By "past", he refers to the fact that waste-to-energy technology has made enormous advancements in pollution control and is now one of the cleanest sources of electricity according to United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Observations from India's Waste Crisis

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In 2012, for the first time in the history of India, the country has seen nationwide public protests against improper waste management - from the northernmost state Jammu and Kashmir to the southernmost Tamil Nadu. A fight for the right to a clean environment and for environmental justice led the people to large scale demonstrations, including an indefinite hunger strike and blockade of roads leading to local waste handling facilities. Improper waste management has also caused a Dengue Fever outbreak and threatens other epidemics. In recent years, waste management has been a major unifying factor leading to public demonstrations all across India, after corruption, fuel prices and a young woman’s gang rape. Public agitation has resulted in some judicial action and remedial response by the government, however, the waste management problems are still unsolved and might lead to a crisis if the status quo persists without any long term planning and policy reforms.

Hunger Strike in Kerala

The President of Vilappilsala Village Panchayat went on a hunger strike recently, against her counterpart, the Mayor of Thiruvananthapuram. Thiruvananthapuram is the state capital of Kerala, and Vilappilsala is a village 22 km away. Since July 2000, Thiruvananthapuram has been transporting about 80% of the 310 tonnes per day of waste it generates to a composting plant and an adjacent dumpsite in Vilappilsala village. Since the same month, respiratory illnesses reported in Vilappil Primary Health Center increased tenfold, from an average of 450 to 5,000 cases per month. People who used to regularly swim in the village’s aquifer have begun contracting infections; swarms of flies have ever since been pervasive; and a stigma of filth affected households throughout the community. This was a source of frustration as locals who, as Indians, prize the opportunity to feed and host guests, found them unwilling to even drink a glass of water in their homes. Currently, there is not a single household which has not experienced respiratory illnesses due to the waste processing plant and the adjoining dumpsite. (1)

On the other hand, Thiruvananthapuram’s residents had to sneak out at night with plastic bags full of trash to dispose them behind bushes, on streets or in water bodies, and had to openly burn heaps of trash every morning for months. This was because the waste generated was not being collected by the city as it could not force open the composting plant and dumpsite against large scale protests by Vilappilsala’s residents. In August 2012, about 2,500 police personnel had to accompany trucks to the waste treatment plant as they were being blocked by local residents lying down on the road, and by some, like village’s President, by going on an indefinite hunger strike.

Municipal Commissioner Replaced in Karnataka

In response to a similar situation in Bengaluru, the state capital of Karnataka, where the streets were rotting with piles of garbage for months, the municipal commissioner was replaced as a result of the waste management crisis in the city. Against the will of local residents, a landfill which had been closed following the orders issued by the state’s pollution control board in response to public agitation, had to be reopened soon after its closure as the city could not find a new landfill site.

Dengue Outbreak in West Bengal

Even if partially because of improper waste management, Kolkata, the state capital of West Bengal and the third biggest city in India, experienced a Dengue Fever outbreak with 550 confirmed cases and 60 deaths. This outbreak coincides with a 600% increase in dengue cases in India and 71% increase in malaria cases in Mumbai in the last five years. Rain water accumulated in non biodegradable waste littered around a city acts as a major breeding environment for mosquitoes, thus increasing the density of mosquito population and making the transmission of mosquito related diseases like dengue, yellow fever and malaria easier. (2) (3)

Rabies in Jammu & Kashmir

Rabies due to stray dog bites is responsible for more than 20,000 deaths in India every year (4). Improper waste management has caused a 1:13 stray dog to human ratio in Srinagar (compared to 1 per 31 people in Mumbai and 1 per 100 in Chennai), where 54,000 people were bitten by stray dogs in a span of 3.5 years. Municipal waste on streets and at the dumpsite is an important source of food for stray dogs. The ultimate solution to controlling stray dogs is proper waste management (5). The public has been protesting about this stray dog menace for months now with no waste management solutions in sight, but only partial short term measures like dog sterilization.

Waste Management Crisis

In light of the large scale public protests in Kerala, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, and Tamil Nadu and the change of Bengaluru’s municipal commissioner, the issue of improper waste management has already become political. However, local governments which are responsible for waste management will not be able to provide or implement immediate solutions. While policy gridlock ensues, public health of Indians will continue to be affected, quality of life will continue to degrade, and environmental resources will continue to be polluted.

The inability to provide immediate solutions to waste management in these cities is not the crisis; the true crisis is yet to come. Not just ten or fifteen, but there are 71 cities which generate more waste than Thiruvananthapuram (310 tonnes per day), and like Thiruvananthapuram, they have limited resources to handle it (6). During the course of the next decade, public unrest is expected to spread as these cities try to grapple with increasing quantities of waste. This will lead to a waste management crisis if government authorities do not leverage the current situation which has resulted in increased awareness to bring about long term reforms.