The popular meaning of ‘recycling’ in most developed countries refers to the widespread collection and reuse of everyday waste materials such as empty beverage containers. These are collected and sorted into common types so that the raw materials from which the items are made can be reprocessed into new products. Material for recycling may be collected separately from general waste using dedicated bins and collection vehicles, or sorted directly from mixed waste streams.
The most common consumer products recycled include aluminum beverage cans, steel food and aerosol cans, HDPE and PET bottles, glass bottles and jars, paperboardcartons, newspapers, magazines, and corrugated fiberboard boxes.
PVC, LDPE, PP, and PS (see resin identification code) are also recyclable, although these are not commonly collected. These items are usually composed of a single type of material, making them relatively easy to recycle into new products. The recycling of complex products (such as computers and electronic equipment) is more difficult, due to the additional dismantling and separation required.
The management of waste is a key component in a business' ability to maintaining ISO14001 accreditations. Companies are encouraged to improve their environmental efficiencies each year. One way to do this is by improving a company’s waste management with a new recycling service. (such as recycling: glass, food waste, paper and cardboard, plastic bottles etc.)
Waste materials that are organic in nature, such as plant material, food scraps, and paper products, can be recycled using biological composting and digestion processes to decompose the organic matter. The resulting organic material is then recycled as mulch or compost for agricultural or landscaping purposes. In addition, waste gas from the process (such as methane) can be captured and used for generating electricity and heat (CHP/cogeneration) maximising efficiencies. The intention of biological processing in waste management is to control and accelerate the natural process of decomposition of organic matter.
There are a large variety of composting and digestion methods and technologies varying in complexity from simple home compost heaps, to small town scale batch digesters, industrial-scale enclosed-vessel digestion of mixed domestic waste (see Mechanical biological treatment). Methods of biological decomposition are differentiated as being aerobic or anaerobic methods, though hybrids of the two methods also exist.
Anaerobic digestion of the organic fraction of MSW Municipal Solid Waste has been found to be in a number of LCA analysis studies to be more environmentally effective, than landfill, incineration or pyrolisis. The resulting biogas (methane) though must be used for cogeneration (electricity and heat preferably on or close to the site of production) and can be used with a little upgrading in gas combustion engines or turbines. With further upgrading to synthetic natural gas it can be injected into the natural gas network or further refined to hydrogen for use in stationary cogeneration fuel cells. Its use in fuel cells eliminates the pollution from products of combustion (SOx, NOx, pariculates, dioxin, furans, PAHs...).
An example of waste management through composting is the Green Bin Program in Toronto, Canada, where household organic waste (such as kitchen scraps and plant cuttings) are collected in a dedicated container and then composted.
Anaerobic digestion component of Lübeckmechanical biological treatment plant in Germany, 2007
The energy content of waste products can be harnessed directly by using them as a direct combustion fuel, or indirectly by processing them into another type of fuel. Recycling through thermal treatment ranges from using waste as a fuel source for cooking or heating, to anaerobic digestion and the use of the gas fuel (see above), to fuel for boilers to generate steam and electricity in a turbine. Pyrolysis andgasification are two related forms of thermal treatment where waste materials are heated to high temperatures with limited oxygen availability. The process usually occurs in a sealed vessel under highpressure. Pyrolysis of solid waste converts the material into solid, liquid and gas products. The liquid and gas can be burnt to produce energy or refined into other chenmical products (chemical refinery). The solid residue (char) can be further refined into products such as activated carbon. Gasification and advancedPlasma arc gasification are used to convert organic materials directly into a synthetic gas (syngas) composed of carbon monoxide andhydrogen. The gas is then burnt to produce electricity and steam. An alternative to pyrolisis is high temperature and pressure supercritical water decomposition (hydrothermal monophasic oxidation).
Avoidance and reduction methods
An important method of waste management is the prevention of waste material being created, also known as waste reduction. Methods of avoidance include reuse of second-hand products, repairing broken items instead of buying new, designing products to be refillable or reusable (such as cotton instead of plastic shopping bags), encouraging consumers to avoid using disposable products (such as disposablecutlery), removing any food/liquid remains from cans, packaging, ... and designing products that use less material to achieve the same purpose (for example, lightweighting of beverage cans).