Quick fact. Did you know that we throw an unbelievable 280 tons of rubbish into our bins every year in the UK?
In the past, the majority of our domestic and commercial waste was sent to landfill sites because it was the cheapest option and there was plenty of space in numerous old quarries across the country. Unsurprisingly, this space began to run out as many of the sites reached breaking point.
Burying our waste in landfill is not a sustainable solution for managing waste. Not only is it wasteful in terms of a loss of natural resources, it also contributes to global warming.
Harmful gases are released whilst all of the biodegradable waste slowly rots and decomposes over time, and poisonous liquids seep out into the ground, damaging the local environment.
Out of the annual 280 tons of waste, despite the fact that so many of us are recycling and composting nowadays, around fifty five percent of our rubbish still ends up in landfill.
LIVING IN A ‘THROW AWAY SOCIETY’
It is crucial for all of us to be even more responsible when it comes to our waste. We live in what is often referred to as a ‘throw away society’. Buy it cheap, it lasts 5 minutes, then it is discarded and we buy new.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
So how can we make a difference?
Well firstly we can make a big difference by altering our buying habits, i.e. instead of buying a few cheap, poor quality pairs of shoes that can only be worn a few times before they need to be binned, buy one, decent quality pair that will last.
We have already adapted some of our ways, taking new habits on board, with the majority of households and businesses recycling paper, metal and glass, but we need to continually look for new ways to practice the three Rs – REDUCE, REUSE and RECYCLE rather than simply throwing things away.
USING LANDFILL GAS
Many of the newer landfill sites in the UK have gas controls which enable the landfill gas, (methane), to be used to produce energy. The methane is captured and subsequently burned in order to power generators and produce electricity. However, even with these gas controls in place, some gas still escapes into the atmosphere…
In Hasselt, Belgium they are looking into ‘Landfill Mining’, an initiative that will take the methane from the landfill and convert it into a useable gas to supply power to 60,000 residential properties.
EU LANDFILL DIRECTIVE
In the UK, the pressure is on as the landfill becomes ‘landfull’ and in an effort to prevent organic waste ending up in landfill; the EU Landfill Directive has announced that by 2020 there will be a charge of €48 per ton, for the disposal of rubbish containing organic waste.
BURNING OUR WASTE
In Oslo, Norway, tons of mixed rubbish is burned in giant incinerators at 850 degrees. The heat and steam generated in this process is used to power a turbine, creating hot water and electricity for schools across the city. In Germany and many other EU countries, much of the waste is burned.
Burning waste is not a new idea; we were doing that in the UK decades ago. The only difference is that back then, the whole process was much dirtier.
Nowadays there are filters to remove most of the toxic pollutants and heavy metals that would otherwise cause harm to the environment. These incinerators are usually situated in cities and built up areas.
CREATING EXCUSES FOR EXTRAVAGANCE?
Whilst many people are in favour of burning rubbish to produce energy, they would probably object to it on their own doorstep and there are many others who oppose it.
The trouble is, the idea of burning our rubbish to produce energy could give justification and an excuse to the extravagant side of our throw away culture, when perhaps our attention should be focused on using less of everything instead…