Part 2: What's Happening With Your Trash?

Oct 2007

What can be recycled?

We'd like everything to be recycled, but how realistic is this? Depends on what country you live in as well as the state/county that is looking after your area.  In the UK, county I live, there are varying levels of recycling depending on the ease:

Our local county news, says that we shamefully only recycle 16-17% of our waste.  (See Recycle rates for the rest of the UK)

In Toronto, Canada typically 69% of their waste is recycled.  Most is collected from the house and includes items such as food scraps, nappies and certain types of plastics.  Education is key to ensuring all residents understand the principles of waste recycling.

In 2005, Singapore recycled approximately 40% of their waste (see Singapore's facts)

In 2005, the US recycled 32% of its waste, out of 245 million tons of waste that was produced (see US MSW facts)

Countries from around the world have different methods for handling their collected waste. 

Incineration converted into power:  This sounds just as carbon neutral as wood burning stoves, that is the waste produce would break down and release green house gases, so burning is an option.  The downside is the release of toxic gases when products such as plastics are burnt.  Countries, such as Singapore, with few landfill sites available incinerate most of its rubbish and then transport the ashes to a landfill site. 

Production of bio-fuel and compost:  Much of our waste comes from food scraps which could be collected and composted down using technology much like that used in anaerobic digesters (AD).  This could be combined with our toilet waste to bump up the methane gas production and fed back to householders.  An additional end product would be compost for gardens.  It has been reported that China has practised household AD since the 1970s with human and animal farm waste.  Industrial anaerobic digesters have been in place since the 1960s.  So why has it not taken place for sewage waste.  Unfortunately chemicals we put down the sink can be destructive to the poor organisms breaking down our pooh (faeces)!  However, if I could invent, I would invent a household anaerobic digester (its still a drawing in my grey book!)

Compost: Collecting garden waste, vegetable and fruit wastes, and food scraps can be converted into compost.  In Europe, it is quite a common practise to have a composting bin if one has a garden.  In Asian climates, having composting food scraps on ones door step is not encouraged due to the number of anti-social organisms that will inhabit the bins such as rodents and cockroaches.  Having government controlled locations would be a way forward.  Countries, like Toronto in Canada, are already collecting food scraps for this purpose.