Most of us don’t often think about where our rubbish ends up when we’re done with it. Given that countries like the UK produce some 230 million tonnes of waste per year, perhaps we should give our waste management habits a second thought. If you’ve ever wondered what happens to your rubbish once it’s collected, read on for the five major ways your waste is handled.
Rubbish is Sent to an Energy Recovery Facility
Your rubbish removal service may take your trash to an energy recovery facility. These plants sort out all the waste that’s brought in, separating what can be used from what cannot. They employ a process called anaerobic digestion, which converts food waste into fuel.
Kitchen waste is moulded into a porridge-like mixture, which is then stirred and heated inside an airtight container. This process releases methane and carbon dioxide gases which can be used for fuel to generate heat and electricity. The food waste also produces a leftover liquid, which can be used in fertiliser. Anaerobic digestion not only reuses food waste but also reduces the need for other energy sources like coal or natural gas.
Rubbish Goes to a Household Recycling Centre
Before hauling things to an energy recovery facility, rubbish removal services will attempt to recycle as much of your waste as possible. If you have recyclable materials like paper, card, glass, plastic, and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) then they go to a local household recycling centre.
These centres often take items for reuse as well. Bulkier waste like furniture, bicycles, clothing, and old appliances can be donated at a reuse and recycling centre. They might also be taken to charities for donation. Waste disposal professionals will often work with local charities and recycling centres to ensure as much rubbish they collect as possible can be recycled or reused.
Rubbish is Taken for Composting
Waste that isn’t converted into energy fuel or donated at a centre might be taken for composting. Facilities use Windrow composting and In-Vessel Composting. For the Windrow method, the waste is gathered into large heaps called Windrows. It’s mixed and turned frequently until it’s broken down into a natural material that can be used as fertiliser.
In-Vessel Composting mixes kitchen and garden waste, putting the piles in covered tunnels so the organic process of breaking down can be more strictly controlled.
Large facilities aren’t the only ones capable of composting. You can start your own compost at home with a container, nitrogen-rich materials such as leafy green garden waste, and carbon-rich materials such as woody, brown, or dry garden waste. By combining the nitrogen-rich with carbon-rich materials, letting the mixture heat and then cool down, you can create your own fertiliser.
Rubbish is Sent Abroad
Unfortunately, not every method used to dispose of rubbish is completely sustainable. One such method is the UK’s sending waste abroad. Until 2018, British rubbish was shipped to China. China began restricting waste importation, however, citing its own country’s public health concerns. The UK then started shipping to countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. But they’ve also begun to put up resistance in accepting waste from abroad.
While sending waste to another country solves the immediate problem of too much waste generated, it’s not a viable long-term solution. Indeed, if countries stop accepting foreign waste then the UK and other countries who ship rubbish abroad will have to find another way to handle their trash problem.
Rubbish is Sent to a Landfill
Although it’s the least sustainable method of handling rubbish, a great deal of the UK’s waste is still sent to landfill every year. Materials that aren’t composted, turned into energy fuel, or recycled often end up being dumped in landfills. Sometimes even hazardous waste materials like asbestos can end up in landfills.
The Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs estimates that 10.8% of local authority waste was sent to landfill in 2018/19. This equates to 2.8 million tonnes. The percentage of landfill waste went down from 2017/18, however, by 14.2%. This reduction is a great step toward further sustainability, but we have to keep changing our waste-producing habits if we want to keep progressing.
Final Thoughts on Where Your Rubbish Ends Up
Now that you know where your trash goes once you throw it away, you can consider methods to reduce your overall waste. It’s easy to let our rubbish be someone else’s problem – as long as it’s no longer in your house then it’s not your worry, right? Unfortunately, if everyone thinks like this then rubbish disposal does, in fact, become everyone’s problem. The journey toward a more eco-friendly future starts with making yourself aware of waste management practices.