Professor Stephen Hawking used to advocate that human survival depends on finding a new home beyond Earth. “I strongly believe we should start seeking alternative planets for possible habitation. We are running out of space on Earth, and we need to break through the technical limitations preventing us living elsewhere in the universe.” Although the idea can sound thrilling, we claim that this is not the best future we dream of for humankind.
The energy crisis the world is facing since the 1970s, global warming, industrial disasters, deforestation, overfishing, poverty, distress, recession, wars, this is all our human doing. Let’s not pursue the old practice of slash-and-burn farming on a galactic scale. We could destroy the whole universe and beyond, it would not resolve the problem. It is our intelligence we should explore, our dignity we should defend.
Let’s face it, it is not planet Earth that is in need of salvation; it is the humankind. If any climate skeptic is reading this paper, know that if your dream is to live in a global dive, we respect your weirdo’s choices; but even if we could all become bionic men and women, immune to nuclear leaks, we would still require decency for all.
The truth is that we are drowning in garbage everywhere. Last year, 48 people died in the collapse of a mountain of waste in Addis-Abeba, Ethiopia; 29 people died in the same circumstances a month after in Sri Lanka. Such mountains are sometimes sunk at the bottom of the sea, like in Lebanon last August, because the garbage crisis Beirut was facing became unbearable and people started protesting against the authorities. Hundreds of thousands of people live off garbage dumps around the world, gathering reusable products and selling them on informal markets. The job is dangerous, excruciating, and often toxic.
No one can be proud of such consequences of our living standards. We like to think of ourselves as progressive, advanced, sophisticated people. And the problem is not restrained to under-developed far-far-away exotic countries. The whole world is suffering from the Diogenes syndrome.
Do we actually love this? We get used to anything apparently. Trash and waste have become our new religion.
We have even colonized the oceans with our debris. Plastic was the watchword in the 1960s. And now the sea is full of it. That is the proof that we should spare the rest of the galaxy. Our filth has no limit.
We are drowning in the trash; it seems impossible to clean the world from such a metastasis production of waste. However, some pioneers and innovators have started to face the problem from an unexpected angle of approach. What if waste materials could become valuable assets?
Landfill gas turned into Biomethane
Organic matter naturally produces “landfill gas” when it degrades. It is an energetic gas composed of methane and impurities. The landfill gas is released to the atmosphere or flared and is responsible for 5% of greenhouse gas emission worldwide. The French startup WAGA-ENERGY, which stands for WAsted GAs ENERGY, can turn this harmful pollution into a competitive renewable substitute of natural gas: Biomethane. Thanks to a unique technology which combines membrane separation and cryogenic distillation, WAGA-ENERGY upgrades landfill gas to pure biomethane whatever the landfill gas quality. This biomethane can be used as standard energy and injected in the gas grid or used as vehicle fuel.
The seven lives of objects
Above waste accumulation, the emerging social demand for circular economy exceeds the recycling imperative.
The French startup Phenix proposes a solution to reduce food and material waste by giving unsold products a second life for consumption. According to them, “wastes are a gold mine of raw materials for the 21st century”. Their digital platform and field expertise allow professionals to reduce waste at every stage of the products life, in restaurants, mass distribution, retail, or alongside producers and manufacturers. Products are immediately redistributed, optimally recycled, or reused by other industries, according to their condition and function. The company even identifies alternative receivers for products which are no longer eligible for human consumption. They aim to help the productive economy to reach a zero-waste business model.
The power is in sewage
Industrial and household activities produce gray waters. They are not too polluted, full of calories, and they flow at a temperature between 28 and 32°C (82–90°F).
Biofluides Environnement, the French leader in energy recovery from sewage waters, developed a technology that allows exploiting a giant repository of fatal energy relatively under-exploited until now. The calories present in gray waters can be reused and upgraded to heat or cool down buildings. Domestic wastewaters are immediately collected and reinjected in the local distribution system. They meet with 80 to 100 % of the collective needs in hot sanitary waters.
Innovation will save us from drowning in trash. Let’s not colonize the rest of the galaxy to spread our garbage to the stars and beyond. Waste materials are the resources of the terrestrial future.