With the global population thriving, the human race is producing more waste than ever.
For example, most municipal solid waste generated globally is concentrated in low-income countries, and around 90% of this waste is disposed of in hazardous, unregulated dumps or openly burned. These poor waste management practices heavily pollute the air, water, and soil in nearby vulnerable communities and ecosystems. In high-income countries, a substantial portion of municipal solid waste is diverted into landfills, which are expensive and highly engineered but can be sources of emerging contaminants. Globally, both management practices exhibit lost economic opportunities, as valuable energy and resources are wasted, meaning, there is an opportunity to improve the sustainability of municipal solid waste management worldwide.
Environmental contamination and economic losses due to unsustainable waste management are key societal challenges.
Current energy and resource recovery schemes rely on expensive infrastructure that limit their application in different settings. Through an innovative combination of low-cost technologies, researchers at The Open University established an interdisciplinary project, Sustainable Processes Linked for a Circular Economy (SPLICE). SPLICE aims to provide a disruptive solution to improve sustainability, well-being, and reduce inequalities in the UK and globally. The project’s vision is to accelerate societal change towards reimagining wastes as sources of energy and valuable resources and reimagine dumps and landfills as energy and resource collection sites.
The project’s interdisciplinary team has assembled a novel combination of low-cost and energy-efficient techniques to better manage and valorise wastes, applicable throughout both high- and low-income countries. SPLICE will focus on research excellence in waste management, environmental systems, wastewater treatment, and microbiology. By leveraging the unique biological, engineering, and environmental strengths at The Open University, SPLICE seeks to provide sustainable, scalable solutions to revolutionise waste management globally.
The SPLICE vision aligns strongly with the UK government’s net zero emissions target for 2050 and 25-year plan to protect the natural world for future generations. SPLICE aims to leverage research breakthroughs to support policy innovations to achieve these ambitions, e.g., through waste minimisation, community education, and other programs to ease the transition to a circular economy.
Dr Tarek Rashwan, who leads the team focusing on smouldering innovations said, “We are keen to expand and strengthen our network of academics, industry partners, and policymakers to best target waste management innovations. The plan is to meet potential new partners through outreach activities such as industry site visits and conference attendance/chairing. These new connections will strengthen our understanding of the key waste management challenges and inform research priorities. Moreover, we will host on-campus workshops, which will strengthen existing connections and bring together remote OU team members. Whilst we currently have strong partnerships with technology providers from industry collaborators, we are keen to further engage waste management companies. These partnerships will aid in understanding the key industry challenges, which will inform research priorities.”