At the occasion of International Mother Earth day, we share some reflections on how the ETN NEW-MINE wants to contribute to a more sustainable future.
In this day, try to close your eyes and remember the beautiful nature that is all around us. Remember the smell, the colours, and the sounds of it. The beautiful landscapes that surround us.
“Pachamama”, which in the Quechua language literally means Mother Earth, permeates all aspects of life and it is venerated by the Inca and other indigenous people of the Andes. It is from her that life starts, she protects and nourishes, and in her everything ends. Of course, this is a concept that many of us have already heard. But what strikes me of the Inca culture is the profound respect that they have for their Pachamama. They venerate the Pachamama in a religious syncretism which is of great inspiration and which allows a broader vision of nature and the natural environment. Nature, the mountains, rivers and lakes all flora and fauns, are a representation of the Pachamama itself, are gifts to humans, sources of life and, most importantly, are to be protected.
Believing or not in any kind of religion does not prevent us from caring about the Earth, the natural environment with all its flora and fauna. And does not prevent us from thinking about the great impact of human operations. Indeed, we are constantly reminded about the impacts of anthropogenic activities and habits on the environment. How many times have we now heard the word “sustainability” or “sustainable development”? Sustainable development is seen as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Bruntland Report for the World Commission on Environment and Development, 1992). Many of the problems that we do not face today will just be left for our children and grandchildren, the future generations, to deal with.
In this framework, waste management is of particular interest. The continuous exploitation of limited resources, the high impacts of production processes and the issues related their disposal, are leading sustainability practitioners to develop new business models to reduce the use of primary resources by reusing, recycling secondary ones and reducing their use when possible. These new business models are at the base of the concept of circular economy, where reuse of products and materials is the priority, to increase materials productivity, reduce the impacts related to their primary production, achieve energy savings, and to eventually reduce the need of more resources in future products and processes.
Waste is a huge reservoir of resources such as materials, that can be recovered for secondary markets, and energy, which can be produced by replacing traditional fuels with waste itself or with the products of waste degradation. However, with the currently available technologies, many materials are still left in landfills and the residues from thermal processes for energy recovery are mainly re-landfilled. The recovery of materials and energy from disposed waste, which cannot be recycled directly or reused, will be of great importance in future. The benefits that could be achieved are not only economic, considering the market value of secondary materials, but also environmental. In fact, only in Europe there are around 500’000 landfill sites. Most of them are not operational anymore and often covered up. However, the fact that we can’t see them anymore does not reduce the impacts that landfills have on the environment and human health. The impacts related to waste degradation last for thousands of years. In literature, different studies have been made related to the impact of waste in landfill over a 100 years how they cannot be neglected.
In our project, 15 young researchers are focusing on the possibility of recovering materials and energy from landfill sites to the highest extent possible. Related to what has been said here, the processes we will research on will help to identify the optimal and most sustainable solutions to recover materials and to produce new materials from the residues of other processes, such as the thermal valorisation processes to recover energy. This will allow to reduce the residues and waste to re-landfill, while at the same time recovering material that can be reused closing the materials loops (circular economy). Apart from the economic return that the recovery of resources from waste could lead to, environmental and social motivation are fundamental drivers of the research project.
As Baden Powell said in 1941, everyone should try to “leave this world a better place than we found it“. All of us can make a change, starting from our everyday activities. And when you start lacking motivation to do so, just stop, close your eyes and imagine or remember the beauty of nature. Let’s try to protect this amazing gift that has been given us.