Industry№ 2 September 2017
The second life of waste products
A scandal about a waste landfill in Balashikha in the Moscow region, which broke out this summer after a live ‘Direct Line’ conference with President Putin, drew attention to a question that was long overdue a good answer – what to do with Russia’s ever-growing waste? Recycling can be a solution. But Russia is only making its first steps in this direction.
In 1964, the old clay quarry site in Balashikha was converted into a landfill known as Kuchino. Over time, it has grown and now spans 50 hectares across. In June, during a TV conference with the president known as ‘Direct Line’, residents of Balashikha informed him that their homes were located only 200 metres from the landfill, and that the fumes from decaying rubbish were not just unpleasant, they posed a serious health hazard. As a result, the landfill was closed within days. Kuchino could become a symbol of a waste management victory. But what about the millions of tonnes of rubbish taken annually to hundreds of similar landfills?
31.5 billion tonnes of waste
Last year in Russia, over 5 billion tonnes of production and consumption waste was generated. By comparison, in 2006 this figure was 3.5 billion tonnes, according to the Russian Federal State Statistics Service. The lion’s share is made up of industrial waste, primarily from mining companies.
These materials often do not require special treatment for recycling. For example, SUEK uses overburden from coal mining to relay its quarries after mining, backfilling and repurposing the used land. Many mining companies, such as Lebedinsky GOK (part of Metalloinvest) use rocks on top of their ore deposits for the production of chalk and construction materials. Applying leftover crushed stone in road construction is also common practice. If previously road constructors were also sent leftover oxidized quartzites, which were considered a waste rock, now things are different. For the first time in Russia, Mikhailovsky GOK (part of Metalloinvest) has tested the dry magnetic separation of low-grade iron ores. This technology has helped the enterprise to recycle some of its waste into the product process.
The Kuchino waste landfill gained literally one day of ‘glory’, thanks to the ‘Direct Line’ with the president.
However, the rest of the country’s waste needs to be addressed. The total amount of accumulated waste, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, is in excess of 31.5 billion tonnes. But according to the ministry, ‘this is an estimated figure as it is difficult to be precise, for numerous reasons’. The scale of the issue is truly enormous. The main task at hand is to redistribute waste flows to sites as far from human settlements as possible, according to Artem Sidorov, Head of Rosprirodnadzor. The government is even considering a green tariff, as long-distance rail initiatives are needed.
However, in essence, these are short-term fixes for a long-term issue.
The traditional economic model is linear: from production to consumption. However, this paradigm is being replaced by a circular economy revolving around the concept of zero waste at every stage of the product’s life cycle. This often requires a modernisation of existing production systems, which maximises use of all resources, saving both raw materials and energy.
Three years ago, Ural Steel (part of Metalloinvest) launched coke oven battery #6, producing high-quality raw materials in quantities necessary for steel manufacturing. Since it is designed to use dust-free coke and waste disposal facilities, all emitted particles are collected and reused in production. It also produces steam, which is then used in other aspects of the production process.
However, both Russian and global experience proves that the most difficult issue to solve is household waste. Perhaps incineration plants provide a solution. Sweden has one of the highest rates of recycling in the world, with 99% of waste recycled. Almost 50% of its waste is burned for the production of electricity and heat. The Spittelau thermal waste treatment plant in Vienna, built two decades ago by the famous architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, is a good example of this process. Today, it is one of the main tourist sites in the Austrian capital. There are no similar examples in Russia yet, although some are planned: soon the Republic of Tatarstan and the Moscow region will see pilot projects by RT Invest.
The amount of waste produced globally is a major issue and is snowballing. The larger the population of the planet, the more waste we produce. According to the World Bank, from 2000 to 2025 the average municipal solid waste produced per person will almost double (up to 1.42 kg per day).
But this is on average; some countries have already gone beyond this figure. Every day, a person in Germany already produces about 1.7 kg of solid waste. However, this does not mean that the problem of waste in the country is growing.
Russian cities now have recycling waste collection containers. While they are few in number, people are still not used to them. ‘We have not yet got used to sorting rubbish. But as in any case the most important thing is to start. Naturally, things will not be perfect at once. But success will be achieved through many small steps,’ hopes Gurami Akhobadze, a leading researcher at the Institute of Control Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The government is thinking about ways to encourage the nation to start recycling. In June, the deputy head of the Ministry of Construction, Andrey Chibis, reported on the development of a law offering discounted utility bills for citizens who sort their own waste.
The collection of sorted waste in Germany began in the 1980s, and in the 1990s the country passed a recycling law. Today, over 60% of materials from household waste are recycled. On average in the European Union this figure is 40%, while in Russia it is only 5-7%.
Virtually everything can be recycled today. Paper products (except for laminate, photo paper and some other exceptions), can be recycled into personal care products, cardboard, printing products, paper bags, egg boxes, disposable dishes, building materials and much more. Glassware can be turned into various glass products. And even broken glass has its own uses, going into construction sand, as well as into fertilisers.
Scrap metal recycling is more complicated, however. But it is an even more important issue, since metals take a very long time to decompose. ‘One car produces about a tonne of metal ready for recycling. But in order to get this metal, you need to separate the steel from plastic, fabric, rubber and other materials. This is a very laborious and often technically challenging task. Responsible companies cooperate with recycling specialists of scrap leftover materials to solve this effectively,’ says Sergey Sokolov, managing director of Ural Scrap Company (part of Metalloinvest).
The main form of mining waste, waste rock, is used as tarmac, which is used in large quantities to lay roads.
He adds, ‘We participated in a national car recycling initiative. Now we also recycle railway cars. Working in the Kursk, Belgorod, Voronezh and Orenburg regions, we cover huge areas, delivering scrap metal to Metalloinvest facilities and minimising the impact of waste on the environment. In each region we manage to make this process as efficient as possible from an environmental and from a business efficiency point of view. Here is an example. At OEMK (part of Metalloinvest) we arranged for scrap collection from the public right at the gates of the enterprise. There are two scrap shears at OEMK, one of which enables the collection of charge scrap, cut for loading into the electric steel furnace, necessary for smelting. This increases production efficiency, extending the lifespan of the furnace electrodes and reducing energy costs. Our collection point is open to organisations and individuals who want to hand over scrap metal. It makes it easier to deliver us this type of waste for recycling than to overload landfills that pollute the environment.’
A large group of recyclable waste is plastic, which includes all kinds of bottles, packages, films and bags. This waste takes centuries to decompose in nature; a rational solution is to make new products from it.
From theory to practice
Recycling technology is constantly evolving. The Netherlands developed an innovative system in the separation and purification of domestic, technical and medical waste without preliminary sorting. This kind of circular system has also been successfully implemented in Germany. In Russia, too, there are companies that recycle waste using advanced technology. In Aramil in the Sverdlovsk region, Uraltermoplast recycles bottles, toys and other polymers into benches, gazebos, playgrounds, and lawn grids. Ecopromline has two plants for recycling tires in Makhachkala and Vladikavkaz into rubber coatings for outdoor areas and gyms across Russia. There are other examples, but they are all based on individual initiatives, rather than major programmes.
The Spittelau thermal waste treatment plant in Vienna has turned into one of the main tourist sites in the Austrian capital.
Russians will take more than a year to adapt to separating their rubbish. However, this beneficial habit has already come into use in many Russian cities.
Recently, a major reform was launched. Amendments to the law On Production and Consumption Waste introduced obligations for production companies and importers to recycle their goods after the end of their useful lives. Companies now have several options. ‘The first option is to finance recycling themselves by investing in recycling tyres, cardboard, paper, tin cans, etc. The second option is to pay an environmental tax, the funds from which will finance various recycling services, including the construction of manufacturing facilities and sorting the collection of waste, among other issues. The third option is to create an association of manufacturers and importers to independently establish recycling facilities together,’ proposed Nikolay Gudkov, Head of the press service of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, in an interview with Profile magazine.
He adds, ‘However, according to experts, the reform needs further development. For example, the list of goods and packaging suitable for recycling must be specified – at the moment many companies simply cannot find their products on the list’.
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