What do you do with the final waste?

We exploit, we produce, we consume. throw away. Recently, we have been recycling. However, a portion of our scrap is non-refundable. This is the “ultimate waste”.

The Indaver plastic waste processing site in Willbrook, the world’s newest. © BelgaImage

Every day one kilo. This is the amount of household waste that every Belgian produces. Science. But very far from the weight we would have if we returned all the waste generated by human activity in Belgium to its population. The whole quantity is up to 6 tons per person. Of which 3000 kg is industrial waste, 2000 kg is construction waste, 50 kg is agricultural waste, 500 kg is service waste and 500 kg is household waste. These consist of bags collected in front of our homes and what we return to various recycling centers and glass bubbles. “With the collection and container gardens segment, we try to group household waste as much as possible according to its characteristics.“, explains Laurent Dupond, Chairman of the Ipalle Management Committee, Inter-Municipal Environmental Management, active in Picardie, Wallonia and in southern Hainaut. This inter-municipal company manages household waste for more than 400,000 inhabitants.In order to increase its recyclability. What is recyclable As a product, we recycle (a bicycle, for example). What we cannot recycle as a product, we will recycle it as a material (minerals, for example) or as an organic matter (compost). If we cannot recover it as a substance, we will use its energy content to burn. But if you can’t do anything about it, it’s a dump. This is called the ultimate waste. “

Belgians, trash heroes

But this concept of final waste is developing according to technologies and methods of sorting. “The “huge” container of a recycling center or recycling center is no longer the same today as it was five years ago. We try to reduce residual waste as much as possible. A center for processing waste gypsum has just been opened. Previously, these were buried. Now the plaster is isolated, separated and sent for recycling to the cement industry or the live plaster industry.“The type of final waste can evolve according to changes in product design. The idea lies at the heart of the thinking led by the Ministry of the Environment and addressed in the Federal Circular Economy Plan: design a product or thing in such a way that it is as recyclable as possible. This example of gypsum works for other sectors: Composite materials, plastic, metal…

Thus, in French-speaking Belgium, approximately 53% of household waste and similar waste collected in 2020 was sent for recycling to “materials” recovery centers and organic recovery (composting or bioconversion). Just over 45% of our containers were sent to ERUs. The rest, about 2%, the final waste, was taken to a technical landfill. It is also necessary to emphasize the Belgian performance, on the same level as Sweden, Holland or Denmark. In France, the rate of such landfills rises to 22%. In the UK and Italy 28%. In Romania, we climbed about 80%, in Greece about 82%, and in Malta, it peaked at 92%!

With advances in recycling and material and energy recovery technologies, we have been able to reach this very low rate.‘, confirms Laurent Mafa, waste department manager at the inter-municipal company Inbw, which manages waste in Wallon Brabant.Basically, now, the two things that still make up the ‘final waste’ are asbestos and ‘rheum’, the residues from processing smoke from burning household waste. It is the remains in powder form that are captured by the various filters of the incinerator. “This footage is the result of the evolution of a process that spanned more than fifty years.”The Holocaust is a good example of technical progress. Our house was built in 1971. It was an oven. Great barbecue. We threw trash on it, set it on fire, and there was a system to remove the bulk of the dust…it was very basic. At the time, we didn’t know what dioxins were, and we didn’t know the effect of heavy metals. Environment was not an issue. Nor the cost of energy. The goal at the time was to reduce the volume of waste.

Another, less expensive practice at the time, was burying waste in pits in a sandpit. Since then, things have evolved. The holes have become technical centers of landfill, that is, they are designed so that they do not pollute groundwater. Incinerators gradually became centers of energy recovery: the energy produced during burning was recovered during the treatment of fumes. These treatments are becoming more and more stringent.

Waste treatment costs around 1.20 euros per Belgian per week. © BelgaImage

Economic cost vs environmental cost

New European air quality standards will further develop these smoke cleaning processes. It is a question of using reagents that will capture pollutants: sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, heavy metals – lead, mercury, chromium … -, dioxins, furans … All this and reagents will make up the famous “reference”. This reference is the concentration of pollutants, a highly toxic substance. But what about her?

It is sent to specialized and approved centers. For example in the Suez Center in Roeselare or in the Revatech Center on the island of Monsin in Liege, where they will be “bluffed”. Once it becomes inactive, it goes to a technical landfill.“This reference is the subject of research because in some way it is a source of raw materials. The laboratories are therefore trying to find a way to exploit the chromium – in particular – that it contains. This desire is perfectly consistent with the logic of the various business plans for a circular economy called for and implemented at different levels: from European to local level The Federal Action Plan in this regard was approved by the government in December 2021. It contains 25 actions that mainly favor the higher levels of the waste hierarchy: for example, phasing out the use of packaging disposables, introducing the degree of reform and imposing minimum requirements in terms of recycled content.But lower levels are also encouraged, especially attempts to recycle final waste.

The evolution of waste treatment towards reducing the waste that will be buried has an inevitable corollary. “For 50 years, the average annual household waste was about 500 kg. It hardly moves. The big difference is that 50 years ago they were put in a pit or burned almost without any filter. It wasn’t expensive. However, the cost was not economic but environmental.“Now the balances are reversed. Sorting, recycling, material recovery, organic recovery, energy, final waste reduction and treatment, and landfill management have a cost. Regional support has practically disappeared. What makes collective tax increases? Waste management has become more expensive for the population. This reality should allow the population to – which is the consumer – by adjusting or adapting their consumption. Lower consumption or consuming differently means reducing waste production and reducing this 500 kg and ultimately the amount of final waste.

Waste treatment costs around €1.20 per person per week. Belgians spend on average twice as much as they do on cigarettes, five times as much on alcohol, ten times as much on communications, thirty-four times as much on transportation and a hundred times as much on energy. And there are few economically profitable recycling channels, such as paper/cardboard, metals, fryer oils and textiles. All other wastes have a negative processing balance. And all waste has an environmental cost in the end…

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