Dealing with waste has become an increasing concern nowadays, since it affects people’s life quality by impacting the health, it affects the aesthetics, it jeopardizes the ecosystems and in general, it negatively impacts the environmental sustainability. Domestic waste (generated by individuals) and commercial and industrial waste represent a quotidian aspect that authorities are aiming to handle, either through applying laws and guidelines for maintaining healthy and clean cities and villages, either by applying various technologies for actually managing the waste disposals. And the processes and technologies used to manage the various types of waste differ depending on the waste and depending on the country that is managing it. As such, while the developing countries still use public waste dumps for depositing the waste, which continues to affect people’s health and to impact the environment, the developed countries use modern technologies and processes for dealing with the municipal waste (Baere & Mattheeuws, n.d., p. 518).
This research paper focuses on the waste management processes and technologies used in United Kingdom for dealing with the municipal waste, investigating the local legislation regarding waste management and the actual forms of dealing with various types of waste by UK’s local authorities.
The purpose of this research is to critically evaluate the processes and technologies employed for managing the municipal solid waste (MSW) from an environmental sustainable perspective, but also from an economic point of view, assessing the economic viability of the technologies employed in various waste management procedures.
The methods that will be used in this research for investigating the environmental and economic viability of the technological processes used in managing waste by local authorities is investigating official, governmental sources, such as legislations and public authority guidelines, which will be matched against each other and against the specialists’ recommendations for environmental friendly municipals.
According to the Summary of European Court of Justice Judgment (2009, pp. 1-2), waste is defined as any disposed material, including the substances and objects that are intended to be disposed, even if they have an economic re-utilization value; these materials are subjected to various deactivation processes, such as landfills, embankments or waste incineration.
As provisioned by the EU Waste Framework Directive, implies proper waste collection, transportation, recovery and disposal, so that any of these processes do not affect people’s health and do not impact the environment (Waste Legislation and Regulations, 2013, para. 1).
The disposal processes
Include various processes, ranging from landfill disposal, to incineration, or to more modern, biological treatment processes. The more modern disposal processes include mechanical biological treatment, biomethanization, (anaerobic digestion) processes for the organic fraction of the municipal solid waste (DEFRA, 2007; Alvarez, 2003; Baere & Mattheeuws, “Anaerobic Digestion”).
The organic fraction
Is the biogenic fraction of the municipal solid waste (materials containing carbon and hydrogen – biomass components and hydrocarbons retrieved from fossil materials such as plastics, polymers, tire components or petroleum residues), which can be removed from the waste (through source separation) or downstream (applying a process of mechanical separation), taking into consideration the fact that the wood and the paper are more resistant and recalcitrant to biological degradation (“Conversion & Biomass to Energy”)
Before applying any technology or other type of process for disposing of the waste, it is recommended to initially prevent the waste by not producing it, which implies a high concern for the goods that people use and how they use those goods (DEFRA, 2009, p. 2). Therefore, a primary focus of the Engalnd’s authorities is to promote a pro - conserving, against waste creation social responsibility cause. Actually, this principle, for advocating for the conserving of resources was enunciated in the Shanghai Declaration on Better Cities, Better Life (Modak in United Nations, 2010, p. 1).
There are various agencies in UK that are centred on generating awareness about the responsibility of managing one’s own waste and conserving the resources for avoiding the waste and for an environmental sustainable approach and the conserving focus is being treated in a sustainable manner, as it is institutionalized, through school and university programs (The University of Edinburgh, “Natural Resources and Environment”). The UK legislation likewise encourages population to prevent the creation of waste for decreasing the general amounts of collected waste and as a secondary measure it promotes the technologies through which goods are separated and resources re-used, being incorporated into secondary raw materials, and for reaching a higher optimization of resources, it also recommends the utilization of waste as a source of energy (“Waste Legislation and Regulations”, 2013, para. 2).
Hence, recycling is the desired solution for preventing the waste disposal, as it implies decomposing products and separating their composing units into individual pieces that might be re-used, incorporated into new products, having a new life cycle. The UK legislation currently provides that waste that fit into the recovery process operations pass through the process of separate collection; however, starting with 2015 the UK legislation will impose the mandatory separate collection of waste for paper, metal, plastic and glass (“Waste Legislation and Regulations”, 2013, para. 3).
The prevention of waste production through encouraging the reuse and the recycling of the materials by applying clean technologies for supporting these processes, the recovery and the recycling of disposed materials into secondary materials are also objectives of the Framework Directive 75/442/EEC, available in European Union and impacting also United Kingdom (North West Region Waste Management Group, n.d., p. 1)
Despite the awareness programs meant to promote a conserving spirit for the welfare of the environment and of the quality of life, there are still around 7.750.00 ton per year of organic residual that are sent into digestion, which counts for 300 kg of biodegradable waste produced annually by a single person in EU, representing only 5% of the biodegradable waste generated across Europe by 550 million people (Baere & Mattheeuws, n.d., p. 518).
Out of the total waste produced in Europe annually, 20% represents municipal solid waste and 25% of the total waste is managed through biological treatment. The plants that are installed in UK are managing annually 500.000 ton of waste ranging the 6th in Europe for its total installed capacity, however, when calculating the installed capacity per million inhabitants per country, UK falls in the lower side of the ranking, as it is focusing on local digestion or biowaste; with around 50.000 ton of waste per year going into digestion, UK applies the waste management efficiently, according to Baere and Mattheeuws (n.d., p. 520).
In United Kingdom, a large percentage of the total MSW (62%) is disposed in landfills, conflicting the EU and UK legislation, which intend to limit the amount of biodegradable municipal waste disposed in landfills (DEFRA, 2009, p. 2).
The purpose of the Landfill Directive is to provide for guidelines and regulations for the proper disposal of waste for preventing the negative effects that it may cause upon the environment, defining strict technical requirements that must be applied to waste and landfills (EUR-Lex, “Council Directive 1999/31/EC”).
The European Directive regarding landfill also established specific targets for reducing the biodegradable MSW destined for landfills (waste capable of going through aerobic or anaerobic processes such as food, garden waste, paper and paperboard and, starting with 2010, also waste coming from sources that are similar with MSW in nature and composition, such as significant waste coming from businesses) (“Zero Waste Plan”, 2-11, pp. 2-3).
The anaerobic digestion, a biological disposal form that processes the waste through the absence of oxygen, by transforming it in biogas, further used to produce electricity and heat, liquids, which are recycled back into the disposal process and used as fertilizer and solid matters, which are further composted aerobically for days, even weeks (“Anaerobic Digestion”, 2007, p. 1; Waste Management, “Biological Processes”). The anaerobic digestion is an environmental sustainable waste management solution, as it generates renewable energy from the biodegradable waste, avoiding the climate change that usually occurs through waste management processes such as landfilling or incineration (“Anaerobic Digestion”, 2007, p. 1).
Organic waste, including industrial waste from factories, food industry and biotechnological processes, etc. from urban areas represents appropriate type of waste to be managed through anaerobic digestion process. This type of biological waste management procedure is recommended for the treatment of the municipal solid waste, in order to transform the waste in biogas, having an active role in preventing the green house emission gases to be formed, through other waste management processes, such as the incineration (Bohm, Tintner & Smidt in Kumar, 2011). This waste management process is preferred in United Kingdom, both for its energy re-cycling function and for its separation of resources.
In United Kingdom the anaerobic digestion has a small utilization, compared to other treatment processes, but the country’s regulations aim to maximize this waste management procedure, due to its advantages that come from the energy production. This treatment technology has several cost consideration such as: the cost of land, of process used, of the materials used (which can affect the biogas generation), the efficiency of energy recovery (and whether it is intended to recover electricity or heat or both), respecting the country’s regulations that impose the conditions for employing the digestate and liquor, or the cost of revenues for digestate (Hogg & Eunomia Research & Consulting, n.d, p. 65). The anaerobic digestion is currently used in UK on the food and drink waste and on garden waste, considerably reducing emissions of CO2 (DEFRA, 2011, p. 12).
Hydrolysis to Ethanol is another waste management technology based on a biological process, as it utilizes water for creating ethanol, a technology used for managing the solid waste, inclusively the organic solid waste, which is managed through chemical or enzymatic hydrolysis, which creates ethanol through the fermentation of sugar (Waste Management, “Biological Processes”). The disadvantage of this technology stands in the fact that it is currently an expensive process, but its great advantage is that ethanol once produced from the fermentation of sugar is a reliable alternative energy, being widely used for replacing the gasoline (Sun & Cheng, 2002, p. 1).
Another biological process for managing waste is the bioreactor landfill, which rapidly decomposes the organic waste and transforms it using liquid for decomposing the waste or air, injected in the waste for accelerating the decomposition of organic waste, but when operating anaerobic (without oxygen), gas is produced, which will be used for producing energy (Waste Management, “Biological Processes”).
Composting represents a method of recovering resources, which can be utilized at various technical levels, appropriate for this matter in developing countries for handling biogenic resources fort soil amelioration (Bohm, Tintner & Smidt in Kumar, 2011). Resource recovery represents the process that allows for the reutilization of waste in other actions/activities meant to contribute to social welfare, which is preferred to landfill but which seconds the recycling, which is the most preferred option for managing waste (DEFRA, “Relevant Legislation and Regulations”).
Regarding the costs of this waste treatment method, they are usually affected by the cost of land acquisition, the requirements for land per unit capacity, scale, the rate of the plant utilization, the selection of technology of process control, the quality/purity of source separation, the specificities of the waste management contracts and the materials employed in this process, and the revenues coming from selling the end product (Hogg & Eunomia Research & Consulting, n.d, p. 50).
In United Kingdom, the Local Authority Collected Waste employs this method for the garden waste, or the biowaste (in vessel batch tunnel, in vessel batch container or the in vessel VCU). The costs differ depending on the type of waste treated through composting:
- Garden waste, open air windrow – costs of €22/tonne at 18.000 tpa;
- In – vessel batch tunnel (biowaste) – costs of €40/tonne at 20.000 tpa;
- In – vessel batch container (biowaste) – costs of €47/tonne at 18.000 tpa;
- In – vessel VCU (biowaste) – costs of 31/tonne at 20.000 tpa (Hogg & Eunomia Research & Consulting, n.d, p. 54).
Mechanical biological treatment is a complementary technique to the waste management procedures, implying both mechanical and biological treatments for pursuing the aim of reducing the environmental impact of the waste going to landfill (by pre-treatment), diverting the non – biodegradable ad biodegradable MSW through mechanically sorting the materials preparing them either for recycling either for energy recovery, stabilizing the waste into a compost – like output (CLO), converting the waste into a combustible biogas for recovering energy or drying the materials for reaching a high calorific organic fraction to be used as refuse derived fuel (RDF) (DEFRA, 2013, p. 3).
While the landfill generates unhealthy living conditions, threatening people’s safety, the incineration processes also cause sustainability concerns, as the incineration process produces methane, a greenhouse gas. Nevertheless, the incineration process can be an effective waste disposal process, if properly utilized, as it can be used for generating energy, therefore, having a double function of acting both as a disposal and as a recycling process (DEFRA, 2007, p. 2).
However, there are numerous organizations in UK acting against the incineration plants, arguing that they are negatively impacting people’s health, the quality of air, it produces noise and traffic pollution, it harms the local sites, it affects the aesthetics of the cities and is considered against the modern principles of waste management (“United Kingdom without Incineration Network”, n.d., para 3).
United Kingdom without Incineration Network (n.d., para 3) states that there are around 30 incinerators in UK that dispose the commercial and household waste and there are plans to increasing the number of the incinerators to 100, for properly dealing with the quantities of waste left of in UK.
UK legislations consider burning waste (incineration) as a poor waste management option, causing pollution of land of water as a result of burning the disposed resources (“Burning Waste”, para. 1).
Incineration’s costs imply considerations on: the cost of land, the scale, the plant utilization rate, the conditions for treating the flue gas, the treatment and disposal or recovery of ash (which can be integrated in various construction activities, for avoiding the landfill), the efficiency and quality of energy recovering, the recovery of metals and the price that can be received for this and the taxes on incineration (Hogg & Eunomia Research & Consulting, n.d, p. 55).
For properly managing the waste, Local Authorities Collected Waste receive £4 billion in grants to be invested in waste infrastructure, providing also guidance for supporting the LACW waste management activities (Gov.UK, “Reducing and Managing Waste”). Local councils also receive funding from the UK Government for improving the household weekly collection of waste, the environmental benefits and the use of innovative ideas or technologies that would support the citizens to recycle more, and also for encouraging the recycling and the re-use of waste, the local authorities and communities can benefit of £1 million up to the end of 2013, under the provisions of the Household reward and recognition Scheme (Gov.UK, “Reducing and Managing Waste”).
The LACW’s activity for the period October – December 2012 describes the waste management procedures mostly employed in UK. As such, in this period the LACW collected 5.9 million tonnes of waste, out of which 2.0 million went to landfill and 1.5 million tonnes of waste went to incineration and the rest was recycled, reused or composted (Holding, 2013, p. 3).
According to DEFRA, resulting from Holding’s (2013, p. 1) statistics show that between October and December 2012 there was recycled 40.9% of household waste, lower than the similar period of the previous year (41.4%), while the household waste that was recycled, reused or composted increased to 43.6% compared to 43.0% registered in 2011/2012; the waste that went to landfill decreased with 7%, reaching 2.0 million tonnes in the period October – December 2012 and the incinerated waste reached 1.5 million tonnes, up 12% from the previous year.
In accordance with the European Directives set for the EU 27, England has implemented a series of actions for pursuing the zero waste plan, which count for both the LACW and C/I waste, and which include, among others: collaborating with businesses for creating measures to prevent waste to occur, planning to develop a waste prevention plan by December 2013; explore the voluntary responsibility potential for waste prevention and recycling; encouraging people to properly manage their waste through introducing grant funding schemes; encouraging councils to sign recycling and waste services commitments for households and businesses; guiding and supporting local authorities and businesses on recycling; offering consult on increased recovery targets or modernize the landfill regulations, including ceasing the landfill allowance trading scheme (CIWM Report, 2012, pp. 12, 13).
Reviewing the waste management technologies for the MSW that are applied in England there can be stated that the country is aiming at reaching progress in reducing the landfill as an option for dealing with the household and commercial and industrial waste by increasing the landfill taxes. However, as statistics indicate, while the landfill decreased significantly in England, the incineration waste management process increased and studies indicate that for dealing with the waste collected by LACW in England the incineration will have to increase further more. Although this is a preferred method to landfill, as it avoids various chemical reactions to occur and gases to mix with the atmosphere causing pollution and the risk of affecting people’s health and the quality of life, incineration is still a poor waste management solution, because it generates methane in atmosphere, which is a greenhouse gas. The ashes coming from incineration should be used, according to regulations in constructions, therefore, this reusability function of the incineration makes it a feasible process.
The more sophisticated waste management processes imply composting and anaerobic digestion or the mechanical biological treatment should be used together for an enhanced efficiency. Therefore, as the composting primarily focuses on decomposing materials and reusing the resources, they should be further processed through anaerobic digestion for generating energy and heat, instead of going to landfill or incineration. Besides sorting, MBT treats the waste for going into composting or anaerobic digestion. Because of the benefits that result from anaerobic digestion, this method is preferred from an environmental sustainable point of view, however because it is still a new technology the costs are quite high and it is not economically viable for England. The fact that the country’s government aims for reducing the landfilling and incineration and increasing the more qualitative waste management processes represents a positive aspect and what is also a fact that needs to be considered as efficient is that through incentive policies and raising awareness campaigns, the country is encouraging the decreasing of waste through using the materials properly so that they will not come to become waste, to recycling or reusing the resources, decomposed from their original materials. Only after this, there can be discussed about waste methods, and in this step anaerobic digestion is preferred to incineration, which tops landfilling. Economically speaking, incineration is still the most viable process and still the mostly utilized nowadays in England, although the pressure of the activists is higher and higher. The solution for not incinerating and not disposing the waste into landfills would is to decrease waste, properly treat it through recycling or reusing the materials. Having les amounts of waste the LACW would be able to employ the composting or anaerobic digestion, applying infrastructure technologies for proper and qualitative waste management.
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