Waste… it has been generated by humans since the dawn of time. The Roman Empire perfected the early art of waste management, using sophisticated aqueducts and waste removal systems.
But the world has grown quite a bit since then, and despite our best efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle, the world now has more municipal solid waste than ever before. In the U.S. alone, we generate nearly 300 million tons of waste a year, a number that will only get bigger as our population continues to grow.
Waste in the U.S. is managed in three ways: Treatment and disposal primarily by landfilling (52.5%), recycling and composting (34.7%), and waste-to-energy (12.8%).
While recycling has jumped leaps and bounds over the last few decades, there are a number of limiting factors. For example, the economics of recycling have declined due to reduced demand for recyclables, and the cost of producing marketable products from recycled materials has increased due to a changing waste stream and more expensive processing. And in a big move, China has recently stopped accepting U.S. recyclables as well. As a result, the number of methane-producing landfills continues to rise.
That is why there is a new push to enhance Waste-To-Energy efforts. Currently the smallest percentage of waste management, WTE is the process of generating energy from the primary treatment of waste, or the processing of that waste into a fuel source.
And a new report
on Waste-To-Energy released by the City College of New York looks closely into decades of research on WTE and how it can be beneficial for recycling efforts and the reduction of greenhouse gases.
According to the study, Waste-To-Energy reduces the amount of waste that would otherwise be landfilled by up to 90%. WTE is also more environmentally sound, reducing greenhouse gases and providing a viable alternative to methane-producing landfills. But not every community practices WTE, and the study also suggests that those who do consistently have greater rates of recycling than those who don’t.