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New ideas for waste disposal

Thanks to the conversion into raw materials, a problem turns into an important resource.

by Anna Volpicelli
24 March 2020
7 min read
by Anna Volpicelli
24 March 2020
7 min read

Global waste is increasing significantly with each passing day. A recent report, appropriately titled “What a Waste 2.0”, determines that global production of solid waste will increase from 2.01 to 3.4 billion tons per year by 2050, an increase of almost 70%.

Each year, an estimated 11.2 billion tons of solid waste are collected worldwide, according to the UN Environment Program (UNEP), an initiative that coordinates the UN's environmental activities and assists developing countries in implementing related policies and practices. The UNEP cautions that, aside from the ultimate minimization of waste, new methods for the recovery of materials and energy from debris, as well as manufacturing and recycling waste into usable products, are imperative in order to realize real progress in this area.

Despite the global awareness and individual willingness to find solutions through recycling, energy-saving technology, and the reduction of food waste, the problem perseveres.

Reusing 100% of domestic and commercial waste

There are some start-ups and companies that are developing technologies to limit and solve this problem.

In Italy, for instance, there is Grycle, an innovative startup whose mission is to make people progressively capable of reusing 100% of what they consume on a domestic and industrial scale.

"Every year we produce more than two billion tons of unsorted waste globally," explains Daniele Pes, one of Grycle's two founding members. "The inefficient and expensive treatment chain in turn generates various negative impacts in terms of cost, CO2 emissions, and traffic. The environmental impact is increasingly evident, and sensitivity toward the issue of sustainability is growing."

Grycle's objective is to drastically reduce the environmental impact of waste treatment in an energy-sustainable way. The trash goes into a machine that transforms unsorted waste into raw material granules, automatically separated and ready for reuse. The machine is equipped with an artificial intelligence module that allows it to progressively learn to recognize new materials, so that it eliminates the need to perform separate collection manually, reduces the volume of waste by over 90% and transforms it into second raw material, reusable in industrial transformation processes.

"The problem is not just about the impact on the environment and our health," continues Pes. "Waste is our waste, and waste is such because we get rid of it." His goals it to transform the concept of waste. "[Things] would no longer be waste but a mine of resources that we could reuse indefinitely."

In other words, Pes explains, "to turn garbage into [something with] economic value."

A new carbon-neutral material born from what we consume

In Israel, UBQ, a company that has developed a waste-conversion technology for producing sustainable, bio-based materials as a substitute for conventional oil-based plastics, has patented a process to convert household trash from landfills into reusable plastic.

The production of UBQ material uses unsorted, residual municipal solid waste as its primary raw material, diverting it from landfills and reducing emissions. The company operates at its research facility at Kibbutz Zeelim, not far from the Negev Desert. There, workers are designing signature thermoplastic material that can be used for commercial and industrial products as a substitute for conventional petrochemical plastic and woods. The goal is to reduce oil consumption and fight deforestation.

According to the UN Environmental Program, poor waste management causes air pollution, water and soil contamination. Five percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by decomposing organic material in landfills, and unsanitary landfills contribute to contamination of drinking water and can cause infection and transmit diseases.

UBQ's new technology could be a solution as it prevents up to 30 tons of CO2 from dissipating into the atmosphere. Its bio-based product is a composite material that can be mixed with olefin, styrene and chlorine-based resins and additives. As a result, it can make a plastic-carbon-neutral and balance out the generation of methane and carbon dioxide in landfills.

The sustainable cup challenge

In 2019 we saw an advancement in circular economy approaches to plastic and packing. In the United States, for instance, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) bills require manufacturers and retailers to contribute to the cost of recycling and disposing their products at their end of life.

The initiative also defined a series of regulatory guidelines for producers, retailers and wholesalers of single-use packaging. Some of the rules dictated by the EPR includes a general container deposit requirement, a ban on certain single-use plastic products, carry-out bag fees and standardized labeling for recycling and disposal.

Born from this urgency, NextGen Consortium, a multi-year, global initiative, is trying to find solutions to help retailers and companies reduce their impact on the planet. Corporations such as Closed Loop Partners, Starbucks, McDonald's, Wendy's and The Coca-Cola Company, among others, have joined forces to address single-use food packaging waste globally by advancing the design commercialization and recovery of food packaging alternatives.

The consortium works across the value chain with municipalities, material recovery facilities and manufacturers to ensure they provide a viable market solution for all stages of the supply chain and bring value to recovery systems globally.

To reach its goal, the consortium promoted the NextGen Cup Challenge, a global design competition launched within its NextGen Circular Business Accelerator. The challenge tasks startups and other companies to identify innovative, alternative cup solutions to bring to scale, while simultaneously working to align these new solutions with the broader cup recovery infrastructure. The goal is to advance recoverable solutions for the fiber, hot and cold and to-go cup system.

The consortium approach is straightforward. First, it evaluates the creative and useful high-potential cup solutions that could work globally. Then it tests solutions and provides critical resources and industry expertise to accelerate their commercialization. Finally, NextGen will match solutions to value chain partners to offer piloting opportunities to scale the solution. The purpose is to discover new ways to deliver products that might not include packaging at all.

In 2020 more companies and startups are going to invest their time, talents and resources to find creative solutions to manage their waste and fight the climate change.

 

The author: Anna Volpicelli

Editor and journalist Il Sole 24 Ore, The San Francisco Chronicle, SOMA MAGAZINE, D la Repubblica delle Donne, L'Espresso (print & web), Marieclaire.it, A, Leiweb.it, Yoga Journal Italy, Vogue Sposa & Vogue Bambini.