Waste disposal is one of the most important services a business needs to function. Every business generates waste, and without proper disposal services, we’d be quickly buried by it. But where does all our waste go when it’s taken away by our disposal provider? Here are a few of the different places where your waste ends up.
Transfer Stations and Material Recovery Facilities
Before your waste arrives at its final destination, it will likely run through a transfer station and/or a Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Transfer stations are a temporary destination for waste disposal vehicles to drop off their collections. At the transfer station, the waste is usually compacted, loaded into even larger trucks, then shipped off to its next destination. These stations help to reduce waste disposal costs and allow the regular garbage trucks to pick up trash more efficiently throughout the day.
Material Recovery Facilities are separate locations where trash is sorted, usually in order to recover useful materials from the MSW stream before it reaches its destination. MRFs use tons of different machines, methods and technologies to achieve this. Some of the methods include running the trash through powerful magnets to collect metals, massive shredders, and even eddy current separators that help separate non-ferrous metals from regular waste.
North America is the top producer of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in the entire world, generating about 301 million tons of trash every year. According to studies from the Environmental Protection Agency, anywhere from 52 to 55 percent of MSW winds up in landfills.
Unfortunately, landfills aren’t designed to break down waste. They’re designed to store it. Most landfills are built into the ground and lined with clay or plastic to isolate the trash from the environment. They’re often bisected with drains and pipes designed to collect leachate – the wastewater that drains from a landfill. Leachate has its own rules and regulations for collection and disposal and is a very important concern for any landfill operator.
When a layer of a landfill reaches its capacity, it is covered in plastic and topped with soil and plants. While the garbage will eventually decompose – it will take a very long time. Partially because a large portion of the waste that ends up in landfills is naturally slow to decompose, and partially because the decomposition process is slowed down in the oxygen-free environment underground.
Most Waste-to-Energy plants are composed of massive, industrial furnaces known as trash incinerators, designed to burn MSW. Around 13 percent of MSW ends up in these incinerators – burned to ash in chambers that operate at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
Not only does this process produce extra heat that can be used to heat and power our cities, but it also greatly reduces the volume of the waste, which in turn significantly reduces the landfill space it would otherwise occupy.
Some other methods of producing energy through waste include anaerobic generators that turn organic materials into energy through biological processes, and wastewater treatment plants that use similar microorganisms to contribute to the power grid.
According to the EPA, roughly 35 percent of MSW makes its way to a recycling facility. This also includes composting facilities, as they operate under the same basic premise – reuse waste to create new products. While recycling facilities primarily focus on items such as paper, glass, aluminum and plastics, composters use agricultural and food waste to create compost.
Recycling rates have been on the rise since the 1980s, and some of the largest cities in North America have extremely ambitious, large-scale recycling systems. In fact, the top five recycling cities in the United States divert 60 to 80 percent of their waste away from landfills and into recycling facilities.
Unfortunately, there are many types of waste that can’t be recycled and plenty of stresses regarding contamination. Recycling facility operators need to be extremely diligent with what they accept. For example, plastics must be clean to be recycled. A plastic container with food waste inside could contaminate thousands of pounds of otherwise perfectly reusable material. Some other items to keep out of your recycling bins include paper soiled by food, plastic bags, electronics, batteries and lightbulbs.