Achieving a circular economy remains the ultimate goal. Embracing innovative technologies and altering our behaviors play a key role in reducing our environmental impact as a collective.
By Dr. Stephen Wise

The current state of waste disposal in the U.S. reveals a concerning reliance on sending single waste streams to landfills. This practice, while commonplace, has severe environmental repercussions. According to the EPA, 58 percent of methane emissions from landfills stem from decomposing food waste. To put this into perspective, that is equivalent to the emissions produced by more than 50 million gas-powered vehicles. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and its release into the atmosphere significantly contributes to climate change, exacerbating global warming and environmental instability.

The impact of hauling waste to landfills extends beyond the emissions generated during transportation too, with the associated carbon footprint contributing to air pollution, soil degradation, and resource depletion in local areas. The environmental degradation resulting from these practices underscores the urgency to shift toward more sustainable waste disposal solutions. However, there is a major barrier hindering progress.

The Challenge Posed by Contaminated Solid Waste
Contaminated solid waste poses a substantial challenge in the landscape of waste management, amplifying existing environmental concerns. When items like takeaway boxes tainted by food waste, find their way into the recycling stream, they disrupt the efficiency of recycling facilities and compromise the quality of recycled materials.

As such, a considerable portion of these contaminated items either end up in landfills are buried or incinerated, exacerbating the environmental issue. The improper disposal of these materials not only contributes to the growing volume of landfill waste and carbon emissions as a result, but it also undermines recycling efforts, defeating the purpose of sustainable waste management practices throughout the U.S.

Addressing the issue of contaminated solid waste requires a multi-faceted approach, involving both consumer awareness and advancements in waste sorting and processing technologies. By raising awareness about proper waste separation and disposal, coupled with innovative solutions for handling contaminated materials, we can make significant strides toward a cleaner, more sustainable waste management system.


Advetec’s pioneering waste-eating technology.
Photo courtesy of Advetec.

How Biotechnology is Helping to Drive Progress
Biotechnology emerges as a key catalyst for progress, offering an onsite disposal option for organizations keen on transitioning from a linear to a more curved, circular economy. So, how does it work?

By placing waste into an integrated shredder, the biotechnology process begins by breaking down materials into a consistent particle size. This not only streamlines the subsequent breakdown processes, but also enhances the overall efficiency of the machine. The waste then enters the first chamber, where an automatic dosing of unique biostimulants occurs. These biostimulants elevate microbial activity, generating heat that degrades matter at a rapid pace.

This aerobic process continues as the waste gradually moves through subsequent chambers. Crucially, the design allows for efficient separation and drying, optimizing the output. After two to three days, the process culminates in the production of a material known as floc, with only 15 percent moisture compared to the initial 45 percent. This reduction in moisture content, coupled with the removal of organic fraction, results in a 50 percent reduction in the physical footprint of waste. Plus, because the stabilized and organic-free floc is produced in-vessel, it does not emit foul odors throughout the process—making it easy to store without attracting pests.

Beyond waste mass reduction, the benefits extend to environmental sustainability. Solid waste that has been effectively eradicated of organics through advanced processes, such as biotechnology, contributes significantly to the reduction of carbon emissions through various key mechanisms:
• No leachates: Leachates are liquid residues that result from the decomposition of organic waste in landfills. These not only pose a threat to water quality, but also emit harmful greenhouse gasses, including methane. Preventing the production of leachates helps mitigate the environmental impact associated with landfill operations and contributes to a cleaner and healthier ecosystem.
• Reduced transportation: The process’ efficiency in reducing the overall volume of waste has a direct impact on transportation emissions. With less material to transport, the carbon footprint associated with hauling waste to landfills is significantly diminished. Fewer trips, especially over long distances, translate to a notable reduction in the emissions produced by waste transportation fleets. This aligns with sustainable waste management practices, emphasizing the importance of minimizing the environmental impact throughout the entire waste disposal process.
• Fewer greenhouse gas emissions: Beyond transportation, biotechnology addresses greenhouse gas emissions directly linked to the decomposition of organic matter. By preventing the disposal of organic waste in landfills, where it would decompose anaerobically (without oxygen) and produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, the process actively prevents the release of harmful emissions. Instead, the controlled aerobic digestion in the system minimizes the production of methane, contributing to the fight against climate change and global warming.

Biotechnology, with its emphasis on efficiency, environmental impact reduction, and resource optimization, represents a significant shift in the future of waste management and disposal.

Optimizing Unrecyclable Waste
The future of unrecyclable waste holds promising advancements, particularly as overseas nations take strides in enhancing waste disposal technologies. A notable development is the exploration of alternative offtake routes by refining the output generated. In the UK and EU, organizations are at the forefront of this innovation, using the refined output, known as Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF). Distinguished by its higher quality compared to Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), SRF becomes a valuable resource with multifaceted applications. One noteworthy application involves generating synthetic gas, a process that aids in the decarbonization of various energy-intensive industries ranging from aerospace to cement production.

The impact of SRF in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is particularly noteworthy. Through gasification, SRF achieves a remarkable 95 percent reduction in GHG emissions. This not only aligns with global initiatives to combat climate change, but also signifies a profound contribution to reducing global warming. By elevating unrecyclable food waste to a resource capable of fueling cleaner energy alternatives, these advancements represent the transformative potential of refining waste outputs in the U.S, to build a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future.

Moving One Step Closer to a Circular Economy
Achieving a circular economy remains the ultimate goal. And while we are a long way off, acknowledging alternative disposal routes for non-recyclable waste is a crucial step forward. Embracing innovative technologies and altering our behaviors play a key role in reducing our environmental impact as a collective. Together, we can create a regenerative and resource-efficient system for a more sustainable tomorrow. | WA

Dr. Stephen Wise, Chief Strategic Development Officer for Advetec and a luminary in the waste, renewable energy, and natural resources sectors, explores how organizations can leverage biotechnology to improve the environmental impact of their unrecyclable waste. He can be reached at [email protected], via his LinkedIn paeg at, or visit