Waste is food

If you’ve ever read Paul Hawken’s Ecology of Commerce, or Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle, you’ll know their advocacy of certain immutable natural laws as the fundamental design principles for building truly sustainable models for business and commerce.

The idea that “waste is food” is one of them – that is, there is no such thing as waste in the natural world; the waste generated in one part of the system simply becomes food for another.

Interesting, in that light, to hear from an MBA buddy of mine this week whose company, Aerothermal, has just secured a fresh round of funding to construct of a full-scale version of its Advanced Anaerobic Digestion (AAD) system, which uses an autoclave-based steam treatment technology to increase biogas yields from municipal waste.

Essentially, the AAD works like a giant pressure cooker, heating mixed waste at high pressures. Organic material is broken down and captured for use in the anaerobic digestor, while non-organic material is cleaned and sterilised ready for recycling. Waste heat from the process can even be captured for re-use.

I’m no expert, but it sounds like an incredibly exciting technology. After all, one of the biggest issues highlighted by McDonough and Braungart in their book is the way we have created “monstrous hybrids” – products and packaging that, in mixing biological (natural) and technical (man-made) nutrients, make it incredibly difficult to separate, salvage and re-use either.

Normally, these problem waste streams would simply end up in landfill. Now, though, it sounds like we could have an elegant solution to that problem – not only increasing landfill diversion rates, but generating low-carbon electricity to boot.

Nice one, Tristan.


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