Is EfW the solution to Australia’s waste problems?

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Waste generation, economic response, and management are issues of much concern in Australia. And for a good reason.

The waste generation statistics in Australia are anything from impressive. Between 2018 and 2019, Australia produced almost 80 million tonnes of waste. That’s a 10 per cent increase from the 2016-2017 numbers.

It gets worse.

The Australian government spent approximately AU$23 billion on waste services. This represents an 18 per cent increase in spending. The waste trends indicate that Australians are unlikely to reduce the amount of waste they produce.

These concerns raise several questions.

How are other nations handling their waste problem? Is there anything we can do about the waste? Is it possible to convert energy from waste? Benefits of waste to energy?

The answers to these questions are yes. And plans to generate energy from waste are already underway.

In 2019, the Australian parliament embarked on a mission to seek innovative solutions to the waste problem. As it stands today, the country recycles over 50 per cent of its waste. But approximately 20 tonnes still end up in landfills.

Possible Energy-from-Waste Solutions

A viable solution to the problem is energy from waste (EfW) technologies. These technologies can convert all the waste that would otherwise end up in landfills to energy. Australia could adopt one or more of the following EfWs:

Combustion and Gasification

Combustion involves igniting the waste and using the resultant heat to drive steam turbines. Meanwhile, gasification involves using oxygen reactions to convert waste into a gaseous mixture. The resultant mixture can be used to generate electricity. Or even get converted into ethanol, hydrogen fuel, and diesel.

Australia could decide to adopt extensive EfWs facilities capable of handling mixed waste streams. The facilities should be able to handle the entire municipal waste that ends up in landfills. Meanwhile, waste handlers would have to pre-treat the waste streams before using the gasification method.

Pyrolysis

Pyrolysis involves heating organic waste materials in a controlled environment without oxygen. This procedure converts the waste into bio-oil, biochar, and bio-gas, each of which has valuable applications. The resulting biogas could be an additional energy source for Australians. Although pyrolysis is most suitable for organic waste, it can also be used to treat plastic waste. The process can also be used on a small or large scale.

Australia needs the EfW plants

The question of how best to handle Australia’s waste continues to be a major challenge. Recycling plants and landfills are today’s preferred solutions, but they are not ideal. Landfills continue to fill up, occupy valuable space, and pollute the environment.

Meanwhile, waste-handling continues to cost Australians billions of dollars. Perhaps it’s time Australians fully embraced EfW solutions to get vital benefits from waste.