When something becomes superfluous to our needs we need to either dispose of it effectively or find a use for it.
Biodegradable waste has become one of those things. There’s simply way too much of it. The problem is, when it ends up in landfills it leaches greenhouse gases. These cause global warming. There is also the financial cost of disposing of biodegradable waste.
Significantly there has been a shift in how we view biodegradable waste. Europe, in particular, leads the fight against waste. It wants other countries to view it as a resource instead of a waste product. The current trend is to ship it off to be disposed of in landfills located thousands of miles away.
However, keep it within each country’s own economy and it can be used as a valuable commodity.
Of course, there has to be a demand for any commodity. Before we explore some smart ways we can use it, what exactly is the biodegradable waste?
What is biodegradable waste?
Biodegradable waste is any kind of organic material that can be decomposed. This is by natural microorganisms such as bacteria, enzymes, and fungi.
- Food waste
- Human and animal waste
- Remains of living creatures
These organic materials break down and release carbon dioxide, methane, energy, water, plant nutrients, and other organic carbon compounds.
What can biodegradable waste be used for?
When most people think of uses for the biodegradable waste they think of compost. It is easy to make compost at home. Consequently, it shouldn’t be too difficult for larger businesses to produce it as a commodity. It is difficult, however, to dispose of waste.
In many countries, non-biodegradable waste and biodegradable waste are often mixed together. Cyprus took on this challenge and designed a purpose-built waste facility. This facility separates the two types of rubbish. The organic matter is composted while plastics and other materials are sent for recycling. In countries where land area is small, it is important to dispose of waste and to use it wherever possible.
In addition to compost, there are other ways to utilize biodegradable waste. One is fuel. Obviously, you can burn waste to create energy. Incinerate waste and you will produce the most energy per kilo. On the other hand, anaerobic digestion generates compost and a kind of biogas.
Biogas is used as fuel. The organic waste is mixed with coarse material and green waste. It is loaded into a module where a chemical is added, the module is then sealed and the anaerobic process begins.
During this process:
- Methane is produced which can be used as a fuel
- A generator produces electricity and heat
- Gas is upgraded and distributed for public use
- Nutrients are retained for soil
Another way to turn biodegradable waste into fuel is to use fermentation. One US company uses microbes to convert harmful carbon emissions, including those from the steel industry, into fuel.
A Danish firm meanwhile mixes enzymes with yeast to produce ethanol. Ethanol is a type of alcohol that can be used as a biofuel for cars. Up to 30% of ethanol can be blended with petrol. In fact, due to the plentiful sugarcane crops (essential for fermentation), ethanol is a common biofuel in Brazil.
A type of plastic made from biodegradable waste materials? Apparently so. A group of packaging companies has put their collective heads together. They have developed a solution to synthetic plastic. Full Cycle PHA is a highly-versatile material made from organic waste.
Bacteria break down raw material and the packaging is produced. The packaging is opaque and looks like ordinary plastic wrapping. It is, however, compostable and will break down naturally. Equally important is that it’s affordable and can compete with plastic alternatives.
At the same time as developing new products, these companies are reducing both the use of plastics, plastic pollution, greenhouse emissions. They also encourage a more circular kind of economy. This is where waste products are included as a commodity, not simply something to be disposed of.
No, we are not suggesting you sit on a pile of rotting vegetable matter. A Finnish company has designed a biodegradable material made using organic waste matter. In Finland, there is an additional problem with forest clearing. A substitute for wood and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a double target.
Finnish company VTT tackled it. Their material uses forestry by-products and other bio-based matter. This creates a great alternative to wood and plastic. This material breaks down on its own and is also thermoformable. It is versatile and therefore well-matched for manufacturing.
The material the company has developed can be used for many different items of furniture, including chairs, tables and anything that can be injection-molded. And at the end of its life, it will degrade into carbon dioxide and water and not adversely affect the environment.
Paper is produced from wood. But one innovative design company in the Netherlands have reversed that technique. They make wood from newspapers. Winners of the European Inventors Award in 2013, they take old newspapers and glue them together, rolling them all up into logs.
The logs are cut as if you were chopping a tree, which gives them the look of a real tree with the rings inside. Once they have the raw material, then anything can be constructed.
Biodegradable waste is, in fact, the third-largest producer of man-made greenhouse gases. This, alongside plastic pollution, is a major cause of climate change. If you have any ideas on how to reduce waste, whether it is biodegradable or not, please do let us know.
We would love to share your ideas!
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