Waste Management, Prevention, and Reuse

EM – March 2024: This month, EM includes five articles related to the broad area of waste management, prevention, and reuse.
by Yiqiu Lin, Mingming Lu, and Steve Zemba

We begin with an article authored by Endalkachew Sahle-Demessie and Bineyam Mezgebe that explores the concept of end-of-life (EoL) solar panels and how a circular economy approach can offer a sustainable solution to this emerging challenge. The authors introduce the lifespan and composition of photovoltaic (PV) panels, then present several strategies that support the integration of solar panels into the circular economy, including designing panels with EoL considerations, refurbishing and reselling old solar panels, and recycling EoL PV panels. The authors discuss circular economy approach based on reusing, reducing, recycling, and recovering that can help the PV value chain and mitigate life-cycle environmental burdens. In addition, this article briefly introduces regulations and guidelines that are recently established for sustainable EoL management.

Next, Shinya Nagasaki focuses on the safety concerns related to releasing treated water from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean. The article introduces the basic concept of disposal of radioactive waste and reasons for generation of contaminated water, and then demonstrates how the advanced liquid processing system (ALPS) can effectively remove radionuclides except tritium. Details on tritium release are provided, including the properties of tritium, human health effect, and release standards.

Colleen McSwiggin, founder of the Cincinnati Recycle and Reuse Hub, describes various effects to recycle the nonrecyclables, wastes that can be reused by are not accepted by most waste management companies. A wide variety of items, such as electronics, textiles, snack bar wrappers, egg cartons, three ring binders, can be recycled at the Hub. “Waste” is resources misplaced. It is therefore essential to develop partnerships in the community and beyond, and to find an end use to these hard-to-recycle materials. There are many likeminded people in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Hub continues to grow with funding from companies and grants. We hope our readers will be inspired and organizations like the Hub can flourish in many other communities.

Next, Janine Burke-Wells highlights challenges to biosolidsmanagement due to the recognition of the environmental hazards of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Many wastewater treatment plants recycle biosolids as fertilizer, a practice widely encouraged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state regulatory authorities, as management practices moved away from incineration in the 1990s. However, the threat of PFAS leaching to groundwater and surface water from land-applied biosolids is potentially forcing a shift toward landfilling and other alternatives.

Last but not least, author Abbie Webb discusses the role of the solid waste sector in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) management. Many associate the solid waste industry with GHG releases from methane emissions and transportation fuel consumption, but efforts to avoid GHG emissions are less known. This article provides estimates of GHG emission reductions from recycling, carbon sequestration, and landfill gas-to-energy using data from EPA, EIA, and the WARM model. The author suggests that GHG avoidance in the solid waste sector is twice its generation. Suggestions on further reducing GHG emissions are also offered.
Continue reading the full March 2024 issue of EM.


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