From plastic bags to paving stones: innovative solutions to the waste crisis

Disposing of hundreds of millions of tonnes of waste is no walk in the park - literally. The era of dumping waste in landfill sites is over. With the global population set to rise from 7 billion to 11 billion by 2100, the amount of waste we are producing is only going to rise. It is becoming more and more difficult to properly dispose of waste and the world is finally waking up to this fact - individuals all across the globe are committed to discovering new ways not just to dispose of waste, but to recover its utility completely.

Battery-eating bacteria

sewage pump Phone batteries at landfill

In the modern age, a mobile phone is essentially an extension of the human body. While having almost boundless information at the tips of our fingers at all times is undoubtedly a positive, it also comes at a cost - e-waste is some of the most trying to dispose of. A slew of carcinogenic and toxic substances constitute the make-up of a phone battery and because of this, they pose a particular problem for waste disposal experts. The Belgians turned to smelting and the Germans opted for vacuums. The most successful approach appears to belong to researchers at the University of Edinburgh however. They are using bacteria that have the peculiar ability to precipitate out the precious metals in phone batteries as nanoparticles, allowing lithium, cobalt and nickel can all be extracted from battery waste.

Vanishing circuit boards

sewage pump Circuit boards at landfill

Circuit boards are an indispensable part of all but the most primitive electronic devices. Because of their prevalence, they have been plaguing landfill sites with toxins like lead and mercury. In order to combat this threat, 12 research groups across the globe have made substantial efforts to produce a solution. It was discovered that silicon is water soluble, and subsequently, their research focused on reducing the standard width of these silicon circuit boards from 1 millimetre to just 100 nanometres,  allowing the circuit boards to dissolve in a matter of months.

From plastic bags to paving stones

Sewage pump Plastic at landfill

Cameroon is just one example of a country that is turning one of its major flaws into an asset. Plastic bags and bottles have wrought havoc with the country’s environment - everything from blocked drains to polluted rivers have tormented Cameroonians. One savvy entrepreneur is making headway into ridding the country of this scourge by converting what had previously been plastic waste into paving stones. After the potentially toxic chlorine is removed, the plastic can be melted down and combined with sand to make durable paving stones. Not only are they superior environmentally, they are also considerably cheaper than their cement slab counterparts.

Wastewater processing

sewage pump Wastewater processing plant

Wastewater is being underutilised in treatment plants across the globe. Fortunately, chemical engineers are becoming more and more efficient at extracting phosphorus from wastewater. Phosphorus is instrumental in the development of strong and healthy roots, flowers, seeds and fruit of plants. No longer is a sewage pump carrying just waste, but a multitude of potentially useful substances. Because the likes of phosphorus is diverted from the wastewater using modular activated sludge digesters, it dramatically reduces the energy required to treat the remainder.

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