Because Waste Treatment and Disposal are No Longer Enough
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle… These are the three R’s taught to us since we were in grade school. In the University, we had also been taught of the four means of waste management—source reduction, recycling, treatment and disposal—in the subject “Introduction to Environmental Engineering”. We all know that source reduction points to efforts to decrease the amount of waste produced, that recycling is the process of transforming waste materials into reusable raw materials, that treatment is the process of removing or breaking down harmful chemicals from the water and air that comes out of a production plant, and that disposal is the release of waste materials back to the environment.
While waste management in the past had been focused more on disposal and treatment than on recycling and reduction, current trends show a reorientation of waste management efforts, emphasizing more on waste reduction than on treatment and disposal as shown in Figure 1. Hence, while technologies developed in the past had been on emissions control such as catalytic converters in gasoline-operated cars, wastewater treatment technologies, and hazardous waste treatment technologies, current trends are more on the development of clean technologies such as new methods of combustion, production of different fine chemicals and the conversion of biomass for use as fuels.
As a chemical engineering student, I have worked in the development of a clean technology for my thesis. It is centered on the use of solid catalysts for the production of biodiesel so that less wastewater is generated; hence, the process of producing biodiesel can then be said to have less negative impacts on the environment. This, added to the fact that biodiesel from vegetable oil promotes the planting of more crops which takes in carbon dioxide, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, makes the research work an example of how science is capable of making the world a better place.
And this is what I envision science to become. I envision a future for science that is centered on the development of clean and sustainable technologies which do not only help improve our lives, but which also gets less input from the depletable resources of the environment and, at the same time, produces less waste to pollute land, water and air.
Right now, I have observed a number of technologies which were developed for the comfort of the few. There are a number of cars which require plenty of raw materials but which can only carry the driver and a passenger. There are a number of technological advancements which cater to the rich but which cause harm to the poor and the marginalized. These are not the technologies that we want to have. Rather, we want to have a science that is able to maximize the limited inputs from Mother Nature so that more will derive equal benefits from these. Most of all, we want technologies that are sustainable—technologies that will not deplete the world’s natural resources at a rate faster than its production—technologies that will ensure that there are always enough raw materials for the future generations to use.
And I believe that this kind of science is possible through the development of clean technologies such as starchware or “biodegradable plastics” which, unlike plastics and Styrofoam, can be degraded by organisms living in the soil. This is why I will focus my energies on the development of cleaner products and cleaner technologies when I become a researcher. In doing so, I will make sure to perform a life cycle analysis of the inputs and outputs of the entire production process in order to determine the net effect of the production of the said technologies or processes to the environment, be it positive or negative. This will help me assess if the product or technology developed is a clean one or not.
Clean Technologies… Because waste treatment and disposal are no longer enough.