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It is pretty obvious today that the Earth has a hard time keeping up with our production and consumption patterns. Large proportions of toxic substances spew into the air, seep into the soil, and travel through our waterways. While we are making some progress in reducing and combating our waste problem, there’s still much more we can do. Resource recovery is one crucial way of doing that. It takes waste out of landfills and oceans, turning them into usable products. Resource recovery saves waste from rotting in landfills and floating in seas, where it can destroy marine life. It is an excellent step towards a cleaner and greener future through the process of recycling and zero-waste.
According to the World Bank Group, the world generates 2.01 billion tons of solid waste every year. With an increasing population, it is evident that global waste generated will also increase. Landfills can no longer hold our waste. Not only are landfills harmful to the environment because of leachate, but they also emit carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen sulfide, and other harmful gases. The leachate from landfills pollutes farmland, drinking water, and groundwater.
If we ever hope to address the impacts of climate change, then resource recovery, recycling, and zero-waste are our most sustainable and sensible options. We can fight climate change by encouraging and promoting a more circular economy.
Resource recovery is reusing recovered material or energy from solid waste to create new products. Incineration is the most common form of resource recovery. Incinerating non-biodegradable materials like plastic is an excellent way to reduce landfill waste. They cannot leach chemicals and contaminate the soil and groundwater when incinerated. Moreover, we can use the heat from incineration as a form of energy.
This isn’t the only example of resource recovery. The main aim of resource recovery is to make the best use of the economic, environmental, and social costs of waste materials before we permanently dispose of them in landfills and promote recycling and zero-waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States set up a hierarchy for the disposal of waste. These are the steps:
4. Resource Recovery
Following this hierarchy ensures that we reduce solid waste and resources used in production. With resource recovery, we already have the resources needed to produce new products. Therefore, we won’t have to plunder the Earth to obtain those resources. Resources can stay in a circular loop rather than today’s linear trend from Earth to landfill. Many solid waste managers are now turning toward resource recovery to reduce disposal costs. The hierarchy has become an essential guideline and inspiration for local recycling programs.
Cutting waste to use fewer resources, to begin with, is at the top of the hierarchy. It entirely eliminates the need for disposal. Reducing our consumption of resources also reduces the environmental cost of using raw materials to make new products. However, the reduction step is the one that faces the most challenges. To reduce consumption and waste, we need a change in societal behavior. This isn’t easy because our entire culture and economy today are based on consumption.
However, there is a small change happening. Manufacturers have started responding to consumer demands for longer-lasting products that use fewer resources.
You might not have realized it yet, but you’re actually quite familiar with various examples of resource recovery. Aluminum cans, glass, paper, cardboard, and plastic bags and bottles are all recoverable. We can turn them into new products. This is why we send them for recycling. The recycling plants sort, clean, and prepare them for new uses.
Other recycling processes that contribute to resource recovery include:
1. Bio-diesel production from algae that grows in sewage.
2. Taking wastewater out of drainages, treating it, and putting it back as a clean, potable liquid.
3. Stripping electrical components like lights for the wires within.
4. Recovering heat from industrial wastewater that enters waterways as a hot liquid.
5. Using paper, food scraps, plant matter, and other organic waste to create compost.
6. Using that compost to increase the fertility of gardens, farms, and agricultural fields.
7. Extracting metals and other valuable materials from cell phones and electronic devices.
Zero-waste means conserving all resources through responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products and packaging. The zero-waste approach aims to send no waste to landfills. That is also what resource recovery does. Resource recovery seeks to do away with landfills by recovering materials and energy from waste.
zero-waste means not just keeping waste out of landfills. It also seeks to push economies to be less wasteful in their production and consumption patterns. zero-waste complements resource recovery (and vice versa) by seeking to eliminate waste at all stages of production chains. Zero-waste and resource recovery ensure that materials stay in a loop for as long as possible. When the time comes to return those products to the Earth, we dispose of them with little to no environmental impact. The aim is to turn production chains into production loops, eliminating the need to use more of Earth’s resources.
Recycling and zero-waste movements have begun gathering steam. The world is increasingly witnessing people taking responsibility for their own waste generation. This is only the tip of the iceberg. We need to increase awareness. Increasing public awareness will force both politicians and producers to take more responsibility. We now have zero-waste fashion, zero-waste agriculture, zero-waste lifestyles, and zero-waste stores entering the mainstream market. Today, more people than ever are striving to meet zero-waste principles.