We hear about reaching 100% clean energy a lot, but what about reaching 100% on all our other sustainability solutions. We still have environmental issues in so many areas, including transportation, agriculture, infrastructure and (our area of expertise) waste.
For renewable energy, people often point to solar and wind power but how can we reach 100% sustainability in all of these other problems? That’s what we’re trying to figure out and we’re starting with waste.
Well firstly, we should probably specify what kind of waste we’re talking here. To stick with our speciality, we want to focus on organic waste, specifically municipal organic waste (meaning households, work-places, shared living areas).
Now we’ve got our problem, how can we find the solution to make sure we’re managing it 100% sustainably?
As we’ve written about numerous times before, the way we currently deal with municipal organic waste is super bad. When it goes to landfill, it emits methane and nitrous oxide, extremely strong greenhouse gasses. What’s more, it produces leachate which seeps into waterways, air pollution that affects surrounding communities and attracts deadly disease vectors.
A 100% solution needs to address all of these problems, as well as a whole bunch of other important factors. These include -
That it’s affordable and implementable to everyone. 100% solutions need to be low-cost and accessible for all people, so anything that’s thousands of dollars, only available in certain places and requires a whole lot of extras is off the table.
Another is where it goes. However you manage 100% of organic waste, sustainably or not, something has to be done with it. With landfills, it just kind of sits there and takes up space. With recycling, it takes the form of some kind of natural fertiliser. This is obviously way better - so long as you’ve got somewhere to put it.
Lastly is how it fits in. If it’s too drastically different from how we deal with waste right now, it may not be taken up by 100% of people. Making sure a new system is familiar enough that everyone can take part is absolutely crucial in ensuring that everyone will.
Do we have anything yet that can reach that 100%?
Well, there’s obviously compost, but we’ll get there at the end. There are a few other solutions out there right now that could be used for sustainable municipal organic waste recycling.
Anaerobic digestion, which is fermenting organics into biogas, is a promising option and there are a few semi-affordable home versions being released. Another potential option is worm farms, which is similar to composting but relying more on those little wrigglers. These have both small- and large-scale options, at various costs and accessible in many ways.
While they’re definitely potential solutions, we’ve found that nothing beats the versatility and flexibility of compost. Particularly in areas such as developing countries that have no waste management at all, compost is a simple solution that can be rapidly, massively implemented at a super low-cost.
Ultimately though, reaching 100% of organic waste doesn’t mean the solution has to be 100% the same. To solve our global sustainability problems, we're going to need to find what works for everyone - whether it's worm farms, biogas or compost bins!