Throughout Europe all nations are committed to the processing of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to divert as much of our organic waste as possible away from landfill. This is a high priority for the United Kingdom if we are to reach Government recycling targets which are designed to ensure we comply with required landfill diversion rates as set by the EU Landfill Directive.
What is the easiest way to divert organic waste away from landfill, and close a lot of landfills for good?
The answer to this is composting. Composting is the natural way to bring left-over organic material back into the nutrient cycle. It also replaces chemical fertilisers and improves the quality of the soil, reducing crop pests, and retaining more moisture in the soil which then means that less watering is needed.
So composting is a good way to divert waste from landfill, but is there real demand for the huge quantities that could be made from the very large proportion of our municipal solid waste which is organic?
No, there are good reasons for concluding that there will never be a large enough demand for it from farmers and gardeners, because there is a huge amount of organic waste in our rubbish from potato peelings to newspapers, cardboard, and even our old non-synthetic clothes.
Composting can also be the first stage toward more sophisticated waste processing technologies such as Anaerobic Digestion, and take us toward a much more sustainable carbon economy which many see as the intermediate step civilisation needs to go through before entering the age of the hydrogen economy.
The vision of a carbon economy leads us toward a need to increase methane production. This is because there will be a demand to produce a lot of methane which can then be processed further into biofuel such as biomethanol and biodiesel – away from dependency on oil as our fuel source – and toward a marvelous new freedom from fossil fuels.
However, just as in most scientific and commercial advances, they work best through evolution rather than revolution, and so it will be with composting. Many nations including the UK, are now composting very successfully, but we appreciate that composting alone will not bring us to the point where we become sustainable.
We realise that we need sustainable renewable fuels very urgently to stop using fossil fuels and reduce the rate of climate change. By building on our success with household green waste and by beginning to compost commercial waste, and food wastes too, we are developing a culture which begins to accept organic waste processing, and not landfilling as the norm. Many successful new businesses have been created to process compost in the UK, and those businesses will naturally seek to develop and diversify.
Composting requires energy, it is a net carbon emitter and it is still not very sustainable for Municipal Solid Wastes. It is not the best use of waste organic matter which can contain a lot of contaminating materials.
So, how can we adapt composting to be a net carbon emissions reducer, or “Carbon Negative” and allow these new business to expand their hard won skills in biowaste processing?
The answer is Anaerobic Digestion for all the organic waste feedstocks suitable for it.
The process of anaerobic digestion (composting without air (oxygen)) uses organic waste materials to produce methane gas. The methane gas produced is a sustainable fuel for direct burning for power generation.
Doing this is carbon positive, it uses only renewable resources, it replaces fossil fuel use. It will reduce climate change.
Put this all together and you have real sustainability. A way of living without climate change, and without jeopardising the lives of later generations from global warming.