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Waste Management in Australia is becoming a serious issue. This is because the population of the country is increasing leading to the creation of more waste. In addition, the rate of growth of urban centres is leading to the generation of concentrated pools of waste. Australia uses landfills to dispose waste.
Landfills ensure that waste does not become an eyesore. However, landfills lead to other problems in the environment, and rob the country of waste recycling opportunities. This paper proposes that Australia is better off generating energy from waste, rather than dumping the waste in landfills.
The situation in Australia in regards to energy and waste has several facets. The country has a very large land area, which it can use for waste disposal. However, this strategy is not sustainable given the long-term impact of current waste disposal practices.
Australia has vast mineral deposits. The minerals include coal, gas, and oil. However, the quantity of these energy deposits is not sufficient to guarantee energy supplies for the country. The amount of oil produces in Australia peaked in 2000 and has been dropping since (ABS 2010).
The country has not developed any new wells in the recent years. This has made Australia a net importer of oil. The country’s reserves are not sufficient to meet its domestic needs. Therefore, the country imports large quantities of oil. In fact, Australia’s trade balance is import-biased. The country imports more goods and services than its exports to other countries.
The country’s energy supply is not growing at the same rate with its energy demand. Models indicate that if the country does not make an effort to increase its energy production facilities, it will become necessary to ration power in some states as early as 2014 (ABS 2010). In this regard, Australia needs to think about how to increase energy supply in line with its growing needs.
The country has very few renewable energy projects despite vast potential for ethanol production, and energy generation from solar and wind. The country has vast deserts that would be ideal for solar power generation. It can also produce ethanol for blending with imported oil to reduce its overall reliance on imported oil.
At the same time, the country has a very long shoreline that can support the production of vast quantities of wind power. This shows that the country has a lot of potential to change its energy mix. Eventually, the country will need to address its energy situation because the current mix is unsustainable.
Waste management in Australia is becoming a matter of increasing concern. The population centres in the country are increasing in number. This is in turn increasing the amount of waste generated in settlements.
The increase in the quantity of waste generated in the country has a direct link to the increase in the per capita income of the country. The country’s income per capita went up in the last ten years. There is a link between increases in income per capita and increases in the quantity of waste (Dhir, Newlands & Dyer 2003).
Thirdly, the country relies on landfills for the disposal of most of its waste. The volume of waste disposed in landfills went up by 12% between 2001 and 2007 (ABS 2010). The volume of waste disposed in landfills in 2001 was 19 million tonnes (ABS 2010). This volume grew to 21.3 tonnes in 2007 (ABS 2010).
This trend shows that the rate of growth in the volumes of waste disposed in Australia went up significantly. However, the growth in the rate of waste disposed in landfill is still on the rise because is the increase in the total volume of waste produced by landfills.
There is increasing interest in diversion of waste from landfills to recycling plants. The amount of water diverted from landfills increased from 36% in 1999 to 52% in 2007 (ABS 2010). This shows that the country’s interest in recycling of waste went up during this period. The degree of usage of landfills is still very high in Australia. Landfills are relatively cheap to use. However, they lead to several environmental concerns.
Problems of Landfills
Landfill technology arose from the need to find a permanent ways of dealing with waste. Waste disposal in landfills refer to burying of waste. This requires the excavation of large areas for use in dumping waste. It is also possible to use natural depressions for water disposal. Decommissioned mines are also ideal for use as landfills because they reduce the amount of work needed to create a landfill.
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The first concern associated with landfills is the emission of greenhouse gases (Khan, Prior & Islam 2008). Landfills lead to the generation of greenhouse gases because of anaerobic decomposition of organic matter. The gases produced in landfills include methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. Green house gases from landfills contribute towards global warming.
The second problem associated with landfills is ground water pollution (Greg, Simonton & Beruvides 2003). Landfills contain all types of waste, which include electronic waste. Over time, chemical pollutant in the waste and chemicals resulting from the decomposition of waste leech into ground water. This leads to groundwater contamination. This can affect agriculture and the use of groundwater for domestic or industrial uses.
Thirdly, landfills affect land use. Usually, waste disposal companies cover landfills with a thick layer of soil and then compress it. This usually results in a flat surface that can support some uses, such as recreational activities. However, there are significant limits on the economic uses of such land. The volume of waste disposed in Australia shows that the land areas affected by landfills is quite large. Furthermore, this area is increasing. This means that the country is losing viable land to landfills.
The fourth problem of landfill use is that they can give rise to spontaneous fires because of the production of methane (Dhir, Newlands & Dyer 2003). If a landfill has sufficient organic matter such as food and agricultural waste, their decomposition will produce methane pockets. The methane can ignite spontaneously if there are exothermic reactions inside the landfill. Such fires can cause injuries, and usually lead to further air pollution from the landfills.
Australia has several options on how to convert its waste to energy. The conversion of waste to energy will lead to several benefits for the country. First, the country’s reliance in oil will reduce because it will have an alternative source of energy. Secondly, the damage that landfills currently cause to the environment will cease. This in turn will lead to a reduction in the global supply of greenhouse gases. A number of options exist for Australia on how to turn its waste to energy.
The first option available to Australia is the conversion of organic waste to biogas. The production of biogas will take advantage of the food waste generated by Australian households, as well as organic waste from farms and factories. Biogas technology is now very advanced. It is possible to bottle it and send it to factories or homes that do not have piped gas. In addition, the country can develop biogas-powered power stations to generate electricity.
The second option the country can use to convert its waste to energy is by making fuel pellets from organic matter (Greg, Simonton & Beruvides 2003). Waste from industrial processing and agricultural processes can be compresses into energy pellets that can fuel pellet generators.
Thirdly, the country can develop special incinerators that can burn all types of dry waste for heat recovery applications. Urban waste contains many types of materials. An incinerator can help to burn all this waste without the need of segregating it. This technology requires the use of flue gas cleansers to remove toxic materials from the stack smoke. It also calls for fly ash capture to eliminate air pollutants.
The fourth energy recovery option is extracting certain types of waste for recycling. For instance, the country can cut its need for power to smelt aluminium by recycling aluminium cans. Recycling of waste reduces the need for manufacturing some products.
In conclusion, Australia has several options in regards to waste management. The best approach for handling its waste is by converting its waste to energy. The technologies already exist. The only requirement is investing in these technologies. Failure by the Australian government to invest in waste management technologies may lead to extensive environmental damage.
ABS 2010, Waste: Waste Disposed to Landfills, <https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/Lookup/by%20Subject/1370.0~2010~Chapter~Landfill%20(6.6.4)>.
Dhir, R, Newlands, MD & Dyer, TD 2003, Sustainable Waste Management, Thomas Telford, Reston, VA.
Greg, H, Simonton, J & Beruvides, M 2003, ‘Engineering Economic Analysis of a Cotton By-Product Fuel Pellet Operation’, Journal of Cotton Science, vol 11, no. 3, pp. 205-216.
Khan, MM, Prior, D & Islam, MR 2008, ‘Zero-Waste Living with Inherently Sustainable Technologies’, in Perspctives on Sustainable Technology, Nova Publishers, New York, NY.