Next-gen integrated waste management facilities are emerging in forward-looking communities and are focused on long-term sustainability, and efficient and effective treatment of waste.
By Heath Jones
A significant aspect of making the circular economy a reality is reimagining waste as an integral component in sustainable energy generation, achieving decarbonization and continual resource recovery and use. This requires a shift in thinking away from purely looking at waste as something that needs to be “managed”, and viewing it as a valuable continuous resource. Waste collection and landfilling does not harness the full potential of waste as a valuable resource, because it is focused on maximizing short-term industry profits, while minimizing potential long-term environmental issues that may only be understood by future generations. If we continue to allow short-term profits to overtake a long-term strategic approach to waste, then we are undervaluing the impact of waste, and our ability to effect positive change.
The Economic Benefits of Resource Recovery from Waste
While there is a lot of focus on the environmental benefits of reducing emissions from landfill and separating waste, a business case also needs to be made for evolving waste management practices, if the sector is to progress from a decades-old approach, to one that is harnessing the ultimate value of waste.
There are many examples in the U.S. of operators being paid millions of dollars to transport waste hundreds of miles away from one community to another, impacting environmental health and infrastructure of communities along the way, and at the final destination, putting profits ahead of maximizing the community value of waste.
However, with the innovative solutions that are being developed and implemented for integrated waste management globally, this does not have to be the scenario of the future; there are profitable alternatives to landfills that contribute to the economy, and decarbonization and environmental sustainability. Switching to these alternatives requires reimagining the world as one where waste is viewed as a valuable resource and shifting to a “Waste to X” mindset. This shift also requires communities and legislators to challenge the status quo of traditional waste companies, and demand a genuine effort in making real advancements on using waste as a resource.
Establishing an integrated network of Waste to X assets is essential to maximizing the value of waste in communities for recovering energy and natural resources, and upcycling previously landfilled waste. This transition will require individuals, communities, and lawmakers to make a bold move away from burying waste as the ultimate solution. There is an initial investment required in a Waste to X infrastructure to maximize the value of waste; however, the overall cost of such upcycling infrastructure can be at, or below, the cost of landfilling, while still returning short- and long-term profits to shareholders.
Implementing a comprehensive Waste to X strategy can finally bring community and government aspirations, initiatives, and laws to a sustainable reality, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including the reduction of methane and CO2 emissions, while extending the lifespan of landfills for the fractional residual materials that are unable to be recovered and upcycled. To reduce the short-term infrastructure investment required, Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) is leveraging local, state, and federal grants and incentives, as well as establishing private-public partnerships, easing the capital investment required to maximize the value of waste in communities.
A New Business Model: Integrated Waste Management
HZI is deploying innovative Waste to X technologies that can be integrated globally, and that fit together in a synchronized way to enhance and maximize the waste value chain. These technologies and “campuses” can be scaled and tailored to treat a specific waste profile of a community (whether it be municipal waste, solid waste, commercial waste, or biomass and organic waste), and maximize it to generate electricity and other renewable energy, district heating, industrial products (such as material for road construction), compressed or liquefied industrial gasses (i.e., hydrogen, CO2, etc.) and biomethane (CH4), recover ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and even recover industrial salts that would otherwise have been buried in a landfill, reducing its lifespan.
In the U.S., we are seeing next-gen integrated waste management facilities emerging in forward-looking communities that are focused on long-term sustainability, and efficient and effective treatment of waste. This demand for renewable energy and products is growing in major cities from Miami to Minneapolis, to smaller sustainability-focused communities such as San Luis Obispo, CA. HZI is having conversations about these solutions across the landscape of communities—community leaders, regional economic development leaders, global and local businesses, higher education, and industry working groups.
What all these initiatives have in common is that they are focused on elevating waste management to maximize long-term economic and social growth, while minimizing waste impact on the communities—seeing waste as a resource. We believe this is just the start of advancing waste away from a “waste disposal” approach to a “waste resource” mindset. We owe it to our communities and children to evolve waste management practices beyond feel-good enhancements of a decades-old “waste disposal” approach, to enhancing the value of waste and improving its use. | WA
Heath Jones is the Managing Director of Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) USA. He has more than 20 years of experience leading large teams and projects in engineering, project management, and risk management, and driving growth in the utility and renewable energy sectors. HZI is a global provider of Waste to X and clean energy solutions, headquartered in Switzerland. For more information, call (865) 777-7400 or e-mail [email protected].