The Waco local supermarket is, in a way, a preview of the local recycling center. The link between consumption and waste is direct, too often overlooked.
For consumers, waste and the very idea of waste and its fate disappear from their lives as soon as their bins are emptied. They see us at best as a cemetery of the consumer society. However, few of them suspect that the contents of their garbage cans are starting a new life with us. Nothing disappears, everything turns … into solid, liquid, gaseous products, and that necessarily has an impact on our environment and our living conditions.
Our host takes us across the aisles, points to unnecessarily over-packaged products or mixed packaging (cardboard / plastic for example) which make the recyclers’ nightmare. We sometimes feel like humanitarian workers acting in an emergency, the generation of waste is up to the quantity of products offered for consumption, that is to say gigantic, and we are today to the extreme limit of the volume of waste that we can treat.
The recycling center was a relatively effective and sustainable solution even five or six years ago, today it has become a crisis response. In 2005, the generation of household waste was 10,000 tonnes higher than that of 2000, going from 15,000 to 25,000 tonnes for an almost equivalent population…
However, Texas was since 1999 below the national average for the production of household waste expressed in kg per year and per inhabitant (between 50 and 100 kg less per person). Since then, the region has caught up with the nation and at the end of 2005, the average generation was around 400 kg of household waste per inhabitant for the year.
But this figure unfortunately only gives a truncated view of reality since it does not take into account the 20,000 tonnes of waste from the professional world (construction company, light industry and tertiary sector). It is therefore around 45,000 tonnes of waste that is processed on site, which puts the average at… 720 kg per inhabitant and per year. The movement is accelerating, and this increase, in addition to showing a clear increase in consumption, worries site officials who are now hesitating on management solutions for the next ten years.
Visiting a Waco recycling center
At the entrance to the recycling center, a huge open space spanning more than 15 hectares, a sign announces: Here we sell compost, bark and wood chips. These are the only three products processed on the spot from food waste and reclaimed wood, whose regional success is undeniable (production is on average 4,000 to 5,000 tonnes per year): not a garden, a flowerbed, a crossroads or a park that is not equipped with these recycled natural products from there.
The rest of the waste is sorted, packaged and redirected to national collection centers in Waco and Houston. The director proudly announces that his site sells to individuals as well as to companies in the public or private sector a range of more than 200 products which will all be reinjected at various stages of the production system! So many raw materials that will not be directly taken from nature.
The activity brings in almost as much as it costs, which is already a remarkable point for the three municipalities since they manage to finance their waste management at 100%. The annual turnover is 72 million dollars – mainly from the resale of packaged and recycled products as well as annual subscriptions from private companies or households. The operating costs of 68 million dollars allow, among other things, to support around 30 people and also leave a very slight profit of 4 million dollars.
The organization of the recycling center was thought, on the one hand, to limit the circulation of waste and, on the other hand, to limit environmental damage.
The heart of the system are the depots, near which are located the facilities receiving very hazardous waste (chemicals, asbestos, lacquers, oils, etc.). They are stored under strict security procedures and do not move until they are destroyed on site or redirected to specialized treatment centers outside the site.
All other waste is sorted directly by users into large bins, under the watchful eye of staff, who must often provide information on the nature of the waste and advise the appropriate bin. The full skips are sent to the places of treatment of each type of waste according to a transport scheme designed to limit internal journeys.
In addition, the infiltration water loaded with various pollutants (chemical, bacteriological, pesticides) is recovered by a drainage system, before being discharged into collection basins located downstream of the landfills and transported by an aqueduct in a treatment center 20 kilometers away. In principle, this drainage water never comes into contact with the hydrographic basin in which the recycling center is installed.
The Waco landfill
Even if the areas occupied for the packaging of paper, cardboard, plastic, ferrous metal, glass and wood are very limited, the volumes treated are very large (21,000 tonnes in 2015, a little less than half of the total). The rotations are simply very fast and the conditioned waste evacuated fairly quickly after their arrival on site. Much larger areas are devoted to the processing of compost, and above all, to the landfill of unsorted waste. It takes 5 to 6 months to produce good quality compost when food waste is mixed with limestone and wood chips and arranged in large rows of 20 to 30 meters.
The most important part of the recycling center is the landfill which occupies more than half of the surface.
There end its life all the waste that could not be sorted or recovered, that is to say between 16,000 and 17,000 tonnes per year, or 37% of the total volume.
The tractors and bulldozers are in action all day, and must methodically distribute the 50 to 60 tonnes (20 to 25 cubic meters) that the Waco dumpsters and garbage trucks dump each day at the end of the morning after their rounds. These mountains of waste are a good symbol of the problem of overconsumption / waste, insoluble in the long term, according to the engineers, if growth continues at this rate in the years to come.
Landfill management represents a challenge and an expensive solution. The spaces provided fill up much faster than the worst forecasts would suggest. For example, the currently active landfill site is already filled to the level planned for … 2024!