Waste Management Background
Solid waste has been a global challenge for centuries. Increases in population and inception of the industrial era have created extensive amounts of wastes and industrial byproducts. The amount of individual categories of wastes and byproducts generated on an annual basis is measured in hundreds of millions of tons in the U.S. alone. Common wastes include municipal solid waste (MSW), hazardous waste, agricultural waste, mining waste, medical waste, incinerator ash, electric power plant ash, and radioactive waste. These various categories of wastes contain contaminants that pose different levels of risk to human health and the environment. Byproducts are generated due to activities associated with all major industries (e.g., automotive, electronics, steel manufacturing, aviation, oil exploration, power generation, chemical manufacturing, packaging) as well as small-scale manufacturing and processing activities.
Significant advancements have been made in the management of wastes and byproducts. Containment technologies have been developed in the U.S. in the last three decades in response to the promulgation of major environmental protection laws. Prescriptive designs for containment systems are used commonly due to the high regulatory involvement. Landfill disposal is the most common means of waste disposal in the U.S., whereas high-cost technologies that promote waste separation and diversion and waste to energy conversion are favored in other industrialized countries. The large quantities of wastes and byproducts generated are major stressors for the containment infrastructure, in particular as the long-term effectiveness of these systems are not well known. Multiple integrated systems have high potential for providing optimum management options instead of individual management systems. Low-cost and environmentally robust solutions are required for developing regions of the world.
In recent decades, a major shift has occurred in waste management from singular discard and disposal to extracting resource value from materials that have reached the end of their useful life. Many forms of recycling have existed for a long period. Examples include goods and products exchanging hands and sustaining extensive "shelf-life", in particular in comparison to current practices and attitudes. In the past, sustainability was defined in terms of those materials that had economic benefit and/or value to the end user. The last century brought cheaper production and high availability and access to goods leading to a preponderance of consumption. A paradigm shift in our attitudes towards the natural and built environment is underway, as indicated by the United Nations definition of sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainability has influenced waste management to incorporate extensive re-sourcing, promoting recycling of end of service life materials and ultimate reduction of final disposal (absolute end of resource value). Recently, the "green movement" has created greater separation of the waste stream with concentration on individual waste components such as paper (multiple grades), plastics, metals, electronics, medical, green (landscape and food differentiated), and construction and demolition. These separated categories of wastes often are not economically based when compared to disposal options, but are becoming increasingly the legislative and popular desires of the general public. Wastes and byproducts not only contain resource value, potential to replace natural or virgin materials, but also have potential for conversion to energy.
Continual technological innovations and emergence of new industries require development of new strategies and adaptation of existing methods for improved management of wastes and byproducts. Major examples of new and emerging industries that contribute to the new waste and byproduct streams include biotechnology, nanotechnology, and genetics. These industries produce and dispose of materials such as nano-particles and biological matter with properties and responses dramatically different than conventional materials. In addition, growing concerns on greenhouse gas emissions coupled with progress in the alternative energy industry and waste to energy technologies altogether require improvements in the existing waste and byproduct management methods.
With this preface, the Global Waste Research Institute was conceptualized by two Cal Poly roommates and lifelong friends on a cross-country trip. [more...]
History of GWRI
The Global Waste Research Institute (GWRI) is a collaborative effort between Cal Poly and industry to promote the development of sustainable waste and byproduct management technologies and advance current practices in resource management.
The GWRI was originally conceived in 2006 by Cal Poly alums Bob Davis, president/managing partner in Rubber Recovery, Inc. and Conrad Young, president of Century Tubes. Their global vision was to establish a broad-based institute that would be at the forefront in developing sustainable technologies and management policies for waste treatment and its elimination from 'cradle-to-grave'. Mr. Davis went on to evangelize the concept of GWRI and was instrumental in helping to procure an initial $1 million grant from Waste Connections, Inc.
The San Luis Obispo based institute, located on Cal Poly's campus and headed by Director Dr. Nazli Yesiller, now engages faculty and students in projects that investigate all aspects of wastes and byproducts from initial generation to final disposal. The Institute provides training for various stakeholders — students, professional community, regulators, general public — in sustainable waste and byproduct management in California and elsewhere, and contribute to the overall educational focus and 'Learn by Doing' mission of Cal Poly. Additionally, the Institute actively promotes international partnerships that help mature and developing countries 'transform waste into opportunities'.