March 18, 2020

Island Solutions: How waste to energy can help create a ‘Circular Economy’ for islands

Plastics, Pyrolysis & The Pacific Garbage Patch

By now, the horror stories of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; the giant floating island mass in the North Central Pacific Ocean have been covered in abundance in the mainstream media. The mass, which isn’t an island but a patch of ocean that’s twice the size of Texas is just one of five similar patches across the world.

The largest ocean clean-up is currently underway, to try to remove plastic from the ocean, with the initiative ‘The Ocean Cleanup’ founded by Boyan Slat. Slat founded the non-profit organisation in 2013. The system in place consists of a 600-meter long floating boom, which collects plastic debris into a containment area.

It remains to be seen, however, where the waste ends up once it’s been collected. A recurring theme when waste collection is put under the spotlight. With discrepancies on exactly where waste ends up has led to a culture of distrust within the waste management industry. Countries and archipelagoes with outstanding natural beauty, sand beaches and shorelines have been flooded with plastic waste from other countries globally.

Malaysia’s environment minister Yeo Bee Yin says that Malaysia is taking steps to ensure the country “does not become the garbage dump of the world”. An article originally written by the BBC reported a total of 3,737 metric tonnes of unwanted waste had been sent back to 13 countries from Malaysia, including 43 containers to France, 42 to the UK, 17 to the United States, and 11 to Canada.

This is where the use of waste-to-energy Pyrolysis units like the current design model used by PyroCore, UK come to fruition. Pyrolysis is a thermal process, which involves heating a material at high temperatures with no oxygen present, which results in a decomposition rather than a combustion.

The unit, which is deployable, mobile and fits into roughly the size of four large shipping containers converts waste feeds like plastic and carpet tiles into synthetic gas which can be oxidised and turned into energy. This, in turn, can be converted into heat, steam, energy or even be used to desalinate water.  Another byproduct is a biochar, which can be used either as a fertilizer or an inert aggregate depending on waste input. Finally, temperatures can be altered in order to obtain leftover metals and other materials, which can be harnessed, recycled and contribute to a circular economy.

By deriving value from what is currently a significant global problem we can greatly reduce landfill as an end destination, enhance the local environments and give island populations a viable long term waste management solution.


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