Recently, three IChemE members descended on Parliament to ask key political figures their burning questions on science and engineering policy issues as part of Voice of the Future 2019.
The annual event, organised by the Royal Society of Biology, is a ‘role reversal’ of a typical parliamentary select committee briefing, where student and early career representatives from various educational and professional institutions pitch questions to politicians.
Sameen Barabhuiya, a Production Engineer at the Dow Chemical Company, was one of the chemical engineers attending to represent IChemE and asked a question on single-use plastic pollution. In this blog, he tells us why it’s important for chemical engineers to have a voice on science policy issues, and how everyone must work together to resolve the challenges surrounding single-use plastic pollution.
Hello everyone and welcome to today’s blog. Christmas is now over three weeks away, but before we leave the festivities behind for another year I just wanted to make an observation about waste during this indulgent celebration.
A few year’s ago I read a story in Engineering and Technology magazine which suggested the UK consumes around 10 million turkeys, 370 million mince pies, 25 million Christmas puddings, drink 250 million pints of beer and open 35 million bottles of wine.
However, according to WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), the food and drink wasted in the UK increases by a massive 80 per cent over the Christmas period, with a staggering 230,000 tonnes of food, worth £275 million (US$400 million), is binned during the festive season.
The only good news about waste on this scale is that much of it can be used for the production of energy.
Chemical engineers have played a central role in the development of energy from waste processes including anaerobic digestion and biogas production.
Recent research shows that municipal solid waste (MSW) in China has increased and in 2010 exceeded 350 Mt (equivalent to 440 kg per person).
I’m now officially half way through my presidency and I’d like to thank everyone for their support and encouragement over the past six months.
But let’s get back to business with today’s blog.
In recent years, significant efforts have been made to turn the world’s citizens into recyclers of waste.
In parts of the UK such as England, the household waste recycling rate reached 43.2% in 2012/13. Over the previous decade, the amount of waste going to landfill has fallen by over 60 per cent.
This data is encouraging, but 34 per cent of local authority managed waste in England still went to landfill in 2012/13 – over a hundred kilogrammes for each man, woman and child.
I suspect for large parts of the world this is a similar picture, but the trends are positive and the number of landfill sites is decreasing and new developments are being scaled back as we find ways to re-use our waste.
But one aspect of recycling that get’s less attention, is what to do with the waste already buried in tens of thousands of landfill sites across the world.
Since 1970 music lovers have descended on a small village called Pilton near Glastonbury in the South West of England to enjoy one of the world’s best music festivals. This year’s festival is already underway with around 200,000 people attending the sell-out event.
For the organisers it’s an immense logistical undertaking, especially the volume of waste created over the five day festival. And one type of waste is particularly challenging – toilet waste.
The festival has around 5,000 toilets onsite, but I wonder how many people, sitting, listening to the music, realise that chemical engineering – albeit in very basic form – is helping to control odours and eventually recycle their human waste into compost?