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Opinion

Dr Stephen Wise talking about the difficulties of sustainable waste disposal faced by rural and remote communities.

How biotechnology is enabling remote and rural communities to manage waste on site

Living in a rural or remote community can have its advantages – greater access to the outdoors, lower crime rates, higher life expectancy and a stronger sense of belonging – but efficient and affordable waste management can be one of its biggest challenges, particularly for Local Authorities, NHS Healthcare Trusts and businesses.

The provision of waste services in rural communities in Scotland, Wales and England is typically more expensive than its urban counterparts due to low density populations, long distances between service-users and providers, and smaller communities that prohibit economies of scale.

Narrow country roads, remote hard-to-access islands and micro-climates all add to the list of difficulties affecting waste service provision, which tend to rely on HGV-led collections. Consider also that these vehicles contribute greatly to CO2 emissions, damage air quality and add to traffic congestion, and it’s clear that better waste solutions have many factors to address. They must tackle geographic challenges, reduce the burden on local road infrastructure and offer greater cost efficiency – all while reducing the impact on the environment.

One prime solution for Local Authorities, NHS Trusts and their waste partners, is to process Mixed Residual Waste (MRW) – i.e. the portion of waste that cannot be recycled because it includes organic matter and typically goes to landfill or Energy from Waste (EfW) – on-site.

Thanks to biotechnology used in enclosed aerobic reactors, the mass and volume of waste can be reduced by 50% and up to 70% respectively on-site. This, in turn, reduces the number of collections required and the associated planning, transportation and disposal costs. Importantly, this decentralised approach also reduces the amount of waste that might otherwise end up landfill, which eliminates associated CO2 and methane.

Businesses based in especially remote areas may well have to deal with infrequent and even cancelled waste collections due to weather or the availability of other forms of transport, such as ferries to reach island communities. For them, biotechnology is the perfect solution.

The process is simple too; waste is emptied into a hopper, which feeds a shredder, biotech additives are introduced, and the organic waste is aerobically digested. After approximately 72 hours, all that’s left behind is a high quality floc which, interestingly, has more thermal value than it did before. This means it’s a higher quality end product that is ideal for processing as a Solid Recovered Fuel (for example replacing carbon-emitting coal to power a cement kiln) which is 40% cheaper to dispose of than sending that same floc to traditional EfW. The financial benefits are compelling.

For remote and rural communities and the organisations that service them, biotechnology provides a very simple, robust, cost effective and local waste solution with a real world impact.

In a time of increased environmental scrutiny and appetite for change, we must look at the traditional ways of doing things and find better alternatives. Why stick with traditional waste collections when there is a much more cost effective and environmentally-beneficially alternative.

Mixed residual waste can and should be processed at source – and biotechnology is the answer.

Read the article here

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