Updated: Feb 1, 2020
Recycling is a resource recovery practice that refers to the collection and reuse of waste materials such as empty beverage containers. The materials from which the items are made can be reprocessed into new products. Material for recycling may be collected separately from general waste using dedicated bins and collection vehicles are sorted directly from mixed waste streams and are known as kerb-side recycling, it requires the owner of the waste to separate it into various different bins (typically wheelie bins) prior to its collection.
The most common consumer products recycled include aluminium such as beverage cans, copper such as wire, steel food and aerosol cans, old steel furnishings or equipment, polyethylene and PET bottles, glass bottles and jars, paperboard cartons, newspapers, magazines and light paper, and corrugated fiberboard boxes. PVC, LDPE, PP, and PS (see resin identification code) are also recyclable. These items are usually composed of a single type of material, making them relatively easy to recycle into new products. The recycling of complex products (such as computers and electronic equipment) is more difficult, due to the additional dismantling and separation required. The type of material accepted for recycling varies by city and country. Each city and country have different recycling programs in place that can handle the various types of recyclable materials. However, certain variation in acceptance is reflected in the resale value of the material once it is reprocessed.
The management of waste is a key component in a business' ability to maintaining ISO14001 accreditation. Companies are encouraged to improve their environmental efficiencies each year by eliminating waste through resource recovery practices, which are sustainability-related activities. One way to do this is by shifting away from waste management to resource recovery practices like recycling materials such as glass, food scraps, paper and cardboard, plastic bottles and metal.
Composting, Anaerobic digestion, and Microbial fuel cell
Recoverable materials that are organic in nature, such as plant material, food scraps, and paper products, can be recovered through composting and digestion processes to decompose the organic matter. The resulting organic material is then recycled as mulch or compost for agricultural or landscaping purposes. In addition, waste gas from the process (such as methane) can be captured and used for generating electricity and heat (CHP/cogeneration) maximising efficiencies. The intention of biological processing in waste management is to control and accelerate the natural process of decomposition of organic matter.
Waste-to-energy (WtE) or energy-from-waste (EfW) is the process of creating energy in the
form of electricity or heat from the burning of waste. WtE is a form of energy recovery. Most WtE processes produce electricity directly through combustion, or produce a combustible fuel commodity, such as methane, methanol, ethanol or synthetic fuels.
The energy content of waste products can be harnessed directly by using them as a direct combustion fuel, or indirectly by processing them into another type of fuel. Thermal treatment ranges from using waste as a fuel source for cooking or heating and the use of the gas fuel (see above), to fuel for boilers to generate steam and electricity in a turbine.
Pyrolysis and gasification are two related forms of thermal treatment where waste materials are heated to high temperatures with limited oxygen availability. The process usually occurs in a sealed vessel under high pressure. Pyrolysis of solid waste converts the material into solid, liquid and gas products. The liquid and gas can be burnt to produce energy or refined into other chemical products (chemical refinery). The solid residue (char) can be further refined into products such as activated carbon. Gasification and advanced Plasma arc gasification are used to convert organic materials directly into a synthetic gas (syngas) composed of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The gas is then burnt to produce electricity and steam. An alternative to pyrolisis is high temperature and pressure supercritical water decomposition (hydrothermal monophasic oxidation).
Avoidance and reduction methods
An important method of waste management is the prevention of waste material being created, also known as waste reduction. Methods of avoidance include reuse of second-hand products, repairing broken items instead of buying new, designing products to be refillable or reusable (such as cotton instead of plastic shopping bags), encouraging consumers to avoid using disposable products (such as disposable cutlery), removing any food/liquid remains from cans, packaging, and designing products that use less material to achieve the same purpose (for example, lightweighting of beverage cans).