Waste into Energy: Two Birds...One Stone


On a planet encountering so many enormous challenges as ours, it is inevitable that humans would strive to figure out ingenious solutions to counteract the devastation caused by the impact of these challenges on Earth’s systems. One example is Waste-to-Energy (WtE), which can indeed hit two birds with one stone.

While waste presents a pressing challenge on the environment with an estimated 2.12 billion tons produced globally each year, the world is desperately seeking renewable energy sources to substitute depleting harmful fossil fuels. What science offers in the case of WtE is a technology that helps us “clean” the environment and generate “clean” energy at the same time; that is just wonderful?

Typically, there are two main waste management strategies used to reduce its hazards on the environment and public health; namely landfills and incinerators.

Landfills are the oldest form of waste treatment. Landfills have several drawbacks, however; besides being ugly and smelly, rainwater finds its way into most of them, specifically old ones, and picks up different harmful and toxic materials, forming what is known as leachate. The leachate then leaks outside the landfill, seeping into the groundwater or harming neighboring environmental habitats. At the same time, the decaying wastes inside the landfills emit dangerous gases into the atmosphere, contributing to air pollution and global warming.

Incinerators, on the other hand, can be described as thermal treatment facilities, where waste materials are combusted and converted into ash. One significant advantage of incinerators is that they considerably reduce the volume of waste by about 87%. Old-fashioned incinerators are ill-reputed because they lack proper pollution control systems. More recent incinerators, on the other hand, are constructed according to strict regulations to achieve higher environmental protection standards. The fact that the incineration process produces heat as a by-product ushered in the potential of transforming the resulting heat into energy; hence, WtE thermal conversion plants were introduced.

Incinerators can be described as “Thermal Conversion” plants; one such plant can treat up to thirty-five metric tons of waste every hour, producing about 1,500 kWh of thermal energy per ton. Another type of WtE technologies is “Thermochemical Conversion”; generally speaking, they are favored to incineration, because they do not include burning, hence involving less toxic emissions that require further treatment. A third type of WtF technologies is “Biochemical Conversion”, which are preferred for wastes with high percentage of organic biodegradable matter and high moisture content, as agricultural wastes for example.

Countries that adopt WtE technologies find value in what others consider garbage. Sweden, for instance, sets an example to follow in the field of waste recycling, with energy recovery being one form of it. It is a country that has literally run out of waste and actually asks for more! In a country with a rapidly growing population as Egypt, huge amounts of waste and the increasing demand on energy represent major challenges. Yet, the country has great potential in the WtE field.

WtE action is not confined to governmental efforts. There are millions of households around the world that turn their organic waste to energy using home-based biogas units. They can be set up in balconies or backyards. However, they are particularly efficient for those living in rural areas with room to host bigger-sized units and access to organic agricultural waste or livestock manure, allowing the house to depend entirely on the produced biogas. Besides providing people with clean, sustainable, and free energy that can be used as fuel for cooking, heating, or lighting, having a biogas unit at home embraces the values of recycling and sustainability and teaches them to younger generations.

It is crucially important to remember that the first line of defense against waste challenges is our practices; unfortunately, the world today is driven by a consumerist approach. Industrialists strive to maximize their profits by producing one-time use products or releasing frequent updates of a single product; this urges people to buy again and again, consequently disposing of much more garbage. Companies do not prioritize the use of environmentally-friendly materials, nor advocate reducing, reusing, and recycling values. Developing rational consumption practices is a win-win solution to save our money, maintain our health, and protect our fragile planet.



*Published in SCIplanet, “Sustainable Development Goals” (Winter 2019) Issue.

**Check too Memoirs of A Green Husband.

About Us

SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
Continue reading

Contact Us

P.O. Box 138, Chatby 21526, Alexandria, EGYPT
Tel.: +(203) 4839999
Ext.: 1737–1781
Email: COPU.editors@bibalex.org

Become a member

© 2024 | Bibliotheca Alexandrina