In the face of a seven-fold increase over the past 40 years in the amount of waste requiring disposal, which will see the country’s only landfill run out of space by 2035, Singapore has revealed its inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan. The Masterplan maps out Singapore’s key strategies to “build a sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient nation”. This includes adopting a circular economy approach to waste and resource management practices, and shifting towards more sustainable production and consumption.
The Masterplan has set a new waste reduction target for Singapore – to reduce the waste sent to Semakau Landfill each day by 30% by 2030 to extend its lifespan beyond 2035. This is in addition to existing targets under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint to increase the overall recycling rate to 70%, non-domestic recycling rate to 81% and domestic recycling rate to 30% by 2030.
Whilst Singapore has decided that sustainability and recycling are fundamental pillars of its waste strategy, it is also committed to increasing its incineration capacity, with a flagship 120 MW waste-to-energy plant currently under development at Tuas. A consortium comprising Hyflux Ltd and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is developing this US$540 million facility which will dispose of 3,600 tonnes of waste per day and is due to be operational in 2020.
As we know, municipal solid waste is both a potentially valuable resource and a significant disposal problem. In the United States, more than 260 million tons (236 million tonnes) was produced in 2015, equivalent to 4.4 lbs (2kg) per person.
To address the issue, the US Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), has conducted an assessment of potential research and development (R&D) activities that could improve the economic viability of various municipal solid waste-to-energy (WtE) options.
The report identifies several R&D opportunities for cost-competitive WtE facilities:
- Applying gasification technologies to sorted MSW to produce a syngas intermediate;
- Lowering capital costs of next generation anaerobic digestion systems that make high-value products;
- Converting sorted-MSW to biocrude and derivative fuels;
- Enhancing techno-economic viability of processes for currently unrecycled plastics.
There is certainly much potential in the US for WtE projects, which are yet to gain much traction. AcuComm’s WasteView database which gives a more up-to-date perspective of the current waste environment, includes details of 231 projects in the US related to the disposal or utilisation of MSW, including 38 WtE facilities.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced US$64 million in funding over three years for 25 university-led genomics research projects on plants and microbes for bioenergy and bioproducts. Fiscal Year 2019 funding for the projects totals US$25.4 million.
The plant research (12 projects totalling US$29 million) focuses on expanding knowledge of gene function in plants to be grown for bioenergy and bioproducts. The aim is to pinpoint the connection between specific regions of plant genomes and particular plant traits, so that features such as drought resistance and crop yield can be improved.
The microbe research (13 projects totalling US$35 million) aims at better understanding of how communities of microbes cycle nutrients in soil and the environment. In the process, the research is expected to shed light on soil processes that could impact the growth of potential bioenergy crops.
Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar said “This research will help us improve crops grown for bioenergy and bioproducts while at the same time deepening our knowledge of complex and interacting biological processes within specific environmental systems.”
Most of the projects are collaborations involving researchers from several institutions; many include one or more DOE national laboratories as partners.
Projects were selected by competitive peer review under two DOE Funding Opportunity Announcements, “Genome-Enabled Plant Biology for Determination of Gene Function” and “Systems Biology Enabled Research on the Roles of Microbiomes in Nutrient Cycling,” sponsored by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the Department’s Office of Science.
AcuComm’s WasteView database currently lists 130 active bioenergy projects which utilise non-waste plant biomass as feedstock, worth a total of US$13.0 billion or just under US$100 million each on average. Click here to explore them all.
Sandbag, the non-profit climate change think-tank based in Brussels and London has reported that coal generation in the EU collapsed by 19% in the first half of 2019, with falls in almost every coal-burning country.
According to Sandbag, half of the fall in coal use was accounted for by wind and solar, and half was replaced by switching to fossil gas. However, this analysis omits the inroads being made into coal consumption by biomass conversion projects. AcuComm has seven European coal-to-biomass power plant conversion projects listed in its WasteView Projects database, covering Selby and Ashington in the UK, Kalundborg in Denmark, Eemshaven in the Netherlands, Cordemais and Le Havre in France, and Konin in Poland. Earlier this month, Zespół Elektrowni Pątnów-Adamów-Konin SA (ZE PAK) announced that its supervisory board has accepted a detailed concept for the modernisation of the existing K7 coal boiler and turbogenerators at the Konin Power Plant with the creation of a second biomass-fired generating unit.
Sandbag notes that if this reduction in the use of coal continues for the rest of the year it will offset CO2 emissions by 65 million tonnes compared to last year, and reduce the EU’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 1.5%. Coal generation already had fallen 30% from 2012 to 2018. Nevertheless, even if these falls continue throughout 2019, coal generation is still likely to account for 12% of the EU’s 2019 GHG.
Apparently there are about 22,000 large objects orbiting the Earth, including working and broken satellites and bits of old rocket from past space expeditions. Even worse, if you include all the equipment dropped by astronauts while floating in space and the debris from colliding satellites down to around 1cm in size, there are about one million bits of space junk in Earth’s orbit.
Jez Turner, a Teaching Associate in Foundation Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Nottingham in the UK, writing in The Conversation, informs us that a long-term solution is being proposed by The Gateway Earth Development Group. The Group is a collection of academics from universities around the world who propose turning this potential catastrophe into a resource. By 2050, Gateway Earth – a fully operational space station with a facility to recycle old satellites and other junk – could be up and running. This would reduce the potential for costly collisions between functioning satellites and debris (which could threaten communications, air navigation, meteorology etc.), as well as potentially providing a revenue stream for recycled materials and components.
Technology to clear up the estimated 7,000 tonnes of ‘junk’ currently in orbit is under development. One programme is the EU-sponsored RemoveDEBRIS; which is aimed at performing key Active Debris Removal (ADR) technology demonstrations to find the best way to capture the space debris orbiting Earth. The consortium working on the programme includes the University of Surrey, Stellenbosch University, Airbus Defence and Space, Airbus Safran Launchers, SSTL, ISIS (Netherlands), CSEM (Switzerland) and Inria (France).
With the profusion of satellites being launched, Jez argues the need for a space equivalent of the plastics wake-up call that people received from Blue Planet 2. There is still time, but plans for cleaning up Earth’s orbit need to be acted on now.
A waste and recycling crisis in the Australian state of Victoria appears to be worsening week by week. Last week, one of the state’s major recyclers, SKM Recycling, was ordered into liquidation and this week Phoenix Environmental Group has been banned by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) from accepting rubbish at its Coolaroo facility.
SKM was contracted to process recyclables for more than 30 councils and started to run into difficulty when China imposed its ban on waste imports. With a throughput of 400,000 tonnes of recyclable material each year, SKM soon started accumulating stockpiles of waste. In July, the EPA ordered SKM to cease receiving materials at its Laverton North site, following concerns it had exceeded safe limits. The company’s difficulties have been spiralling, culminating in the Supreme Court appointing a liquidator and ordering the company to be wound up after it was unable to show it could repay debts of A$5.5 million.
The desperation to dispose of the rapidly growing stockpiles of waste has hit a new low just this week with the reported discovery that Phoenix Environmental Group was operating a massive illegal dump at an Altona warehouse and attempting to use an industrial incinerator to dispose of around 6,000 cubic metres of recyclable plastic in an alleged bid to escape enforcement action by the local council and the Environment Protection Authority.
Unsurprisingly, Victoria’s waste management system is under great strain, with at least 15 councils reportedly forced to dump paper, glass and cans in landfill until alternative processors can be found.
Just this week, the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG Coalition) announced that the North American renewable natural gas (RNG) industry has reached the 100 facility benchmark this summer. With the addition of three recent operational facilities, the 101 RNG production sites across the continent, (91 in the United States and 10 in Canada), equate to nearly 150% growth over the past five years from the 41 projects built between 1982 and 2014.
While RNG or biogas plants have obviously been around for a long time in the United States and Canada, an acceleration in development is apparent. Technological developments, specialist operators and state legislation promoting biogas development, are all contributing to a wave of larger-scale facilities, invariably linked to pipelines rather than simply meeting on-site demand.
Pig and dairy farms feature prominently as locations in the current wave of projects, with developers such as Dominion, California Bioenergy, Vanguard Renewables, GESS International and Calgren Dairy Fuels announcing large deals with livestock producers, such as Dominion’s November 2018 announcement to tie up with Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor and pig producer.
AcuComm currently lists 196 biogas/AD active projects in the United States and Canada in its database.
The issue of what to do with our waste is a constant problem which can very quickly unravel if the adequate infrastructure isn’t in place, or if for any reason it ceases to function. In a recent AcuComm article, you can read about the unsatisfactory situation in Rome and the wider picture in Italy. But the potential for a ‘waste crisis’ is everywhere. Italy may not have much waste-to-energy capacity for example, but as the Dutch authorities are currently finding, that doesn’t assure waste disposal.
Earlier in July, AEB, the waste-to-energy company owned by the municipality of Amsterdam announced the closure of four of its six incinerators, potentially for up to nine months, with the two remaining plants working at a reduced 80% capacity. The closure is the result of intervention from the environmental regulator, the OD NZKG, which placed AEB under stricter supervision back in February 2018. This sudden and massive reduction in waste processing capacity leaves Amsterdam with a major headache. There is much conjecture on what will become of the waste which can no longer be incinerated – with landfill an option and in the case of sewage sludge, a possible return to disposal at sea. The Amstel, Gooi and Vecht Water Board (Waterschap Amstel, Gooi en Vecht), for example, delivers some 250 tonnes of sewage sludge to AEB every day. Storage capacity is limited and the option of sending the sludge to Germany, where it used to be co-fired in brown coal plants, is no longer permitted under EU rules. AEB is reportedly prepared to bear the financial consequences of the shutdown, but money alone isn’t going to solve the immediate issue of what to do with Amsterdam’s waste.
AcuComm currently has 7 projects involving AEB listed in its database, valued at an estimated €163.3 million in total.
Brune Poirson, the Secretary of State for Ecological Transition in France, has presented a draft ‘circular economy’ bill (Loi Anti-Gaspillage pour une economie circulaire) which is expected to go before Parliament in September.
Building on the plan announced by prime minister Edouard Philippe in April 2018 which seeks to embrace a philosophy of repair, re-use and recycle, the bill seeks to reduce built-in obsolescence in electrical goods, broaden the country’s extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme, ban the destruction of unsold textiles and return to the ‘consigne’ deposit-return system.
The draft bill appears to have been broadly welcomed. Elipso, the professional association representing manufacturers of plastic packaging in France calls it an ambitious and strong text, a ‘big bang’ which will profoundly change the world of waste. Elipso has called for a calm debate and asks that the law should support the deployment of new plastic recycling channels and encourage innovation.
There is opposition in some quarters however. Federec, the Federation of Recycling Companies, has said that bringing back the consigne will be “costly for French people, local councils and small shopkeepers” which won’t have the resources to set up a deposit-return system. Federec sees the higher value recyclable drinks bottle/can streams being diverted to the major industrial groups which will operate the schemes, while smaller recyclers and local sorting centres will be left to handle less profitable schemes. Local councils stand to lose a source of revenue estimated at up to €300 million each year, says Federec.
What is undeniable is that France needs to tackle the issue of waste, and especially plastics. Data released by Citeo indicates that France lags behind Europe in its recycling of household plastics, managing to recycle only 26.5% compared to a European average of 41%. If Brune Poirson can push her legislation through, France may well become a European leader in plastic recycling, rather than lagging behind.
The UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee has launched an inquiry into Electronic Waste (e-waste) and the circular economy.
The increasing use of electronic devices and equipment has led to a rapid increase in e-waste. Globally, 44.7 million tonnes of e-waste were produced in 2017, 90% of which, the Committee says was sent to landfill, incinerated, illegally traded or treated in a sub-standard way. Europe and the US account for almost half of all e-waste globally, with the EU predicted to produce 12 million tonnes by 2020. As the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, put it: “Our old fridges, freezers, computers, TVs, kettles and mobile phones are piling up in a ‘tsunami of e-waste’.
According to Ms Creagh “The UK produces more e-waste than the EU average. We are missing EU targets and are one of the worst offenders for exporting waste to developing countries, who are ill equipped to dispose of it in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Our attitude to e-waste is unsustainable and the need for radical action clear. We will be investigating the UK’s e-waste industry and looking at how we can create a circular economy for electronic goods.”
The UK produces 24.9kg of e-waste per person, higher than the EU average of 17.7kg. Electronic waste in the UK is managed under the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2013.
Defra sets annual targets for the collection of WEEE across a range of categories. These are calculated based on the WEEE Directive’s target of 65% of the average annual weight of electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market over the previous three years. The target for 2019 has been set at 550,577 tonnes, a 12% increase on 2018 levels. The UK missed its WEEE collection target by 45,000 tonnes in 2018.
The Government has committed to publishing a review of the 2013 WEEE Regulations this year and consulting on changing WEEE by the end of 2020. This consultation will consider ideas to incentivise sustainable product design and increase recycling. It has also committed £8 million in funding over the next three years to support research, behaviour change and local projects to boost reuse and recycling.