Waste Disposal - the current most environment-friendly method

Waste disposal - the current most environment-friendly method

Waste disposal has been a matter of concern for decades and the problem has been compounded by the humongous waste we are dealing with due to population growth and industrialisation. The main issue is grappling with expeditious and safe waste disposal. And of all the waste produced, the non-biodegradable and toxic wastes can cause potential irreparable damage to the environment and human health if not strategically disposed of. The four existing methods of waste disposal are sanitary landfill, incineration, recycling and composting. Though some advancement is being made in waste disposal methods, they are still not adequate.

Of all the waste disposal methods, recycling is regarded as the most effective current method. Recycling serves to transform waste into products of their own genre through industrial processing. It is environmentally friendly to reuse the wastes instead of adding them to nature.

However, recycling technologies are complex and costly. The recycling operations themselves are not environmentally friendly as they involve transporting, washing, sorting, chopping/shredding/re-melting, etc. Furthermore, the prices for recyclable materials have plummeted because of lower oil prices and reduced overseas demand.

There are four main categories of recyclable materials – paper, glass, aluminium and plastics.

 Recycling aluminium is relatively straightforward, profitable and environmentally sound. Making a can from recycled aluminium reduces its carbon footprint by up to 95%. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gases come from just a few materials - paper, cardboard and metals like the aluminium in soda cans.   Recycling one ton of metal or paper saves about three tons of carbon dioxide while recycling one ton of plastic saves only slightly more than one ton of carbon dioxide. Looks like we can accomplish more by sorting paper and aluminium cans than by worrying about yogurt containers and half-eaten dinners!

 

But with plastic, it is not that simple. Plastic is where recycling gets most controversial. While virtually all plastics can be recycled, many aren’t because the process is expensive, complicated and the resulting product is of lower quality than what you put in. The carbon-reduction benefits are also less clear. According to a 2017 Science Advances paper entitled Production, of the 8.3bn tonnes of virgin plastic produced worldwide, only 9% has been recycled.

 Recyclable/recycled plastic releases A LOT more CO2. You make the plastic (co2 released), you break down the plastic (co2 released), you make it into a new product (co2 released), you break it down again (co2 released) and the cycle goes on and on.

If recycling means high usage of energy and resources and hence a net environment cost, then it is only a partial solution. Furthermore, many of the products that we think are ‘recycled’ are actually ‘downcycled’.  For example a plastic milk carton can never be recycled into another carton but made into a lower-quality item like plastic lumber, which can’t be recycled again.

 What about composting and biodegrading?

Most compostable certified food packing is only good for compostability in a commercial composting facility. The issue begins with PLA items. PLA is a plant based plastic, and is used to make cutlery, clear cups and clear deli containers. It requires a certain level of heat to start the composting process and in most home composts, this level of heat is not achieved.

 Element Packaging carries not only compostable and biodegradable food packaging but a range that can be home compostable. Element Packaging by default has zero plastic therefore lesser carbon impact. Even if these products go into landfill, they do not have long term harming effects like plastic does. 

 To help in ensuring that its compostable certified packaging lands in the right place, Element has partnered with First Mile. First Mile collects Element’s biodegradable, compostable and home compostable food packaging waste from individual end users, helps sort it out and sends it to a composting facility. This diverts the waste from the landfill and promotes the use of environmentally friendly packaging