Many times in my lectures I speak about the new era of small, decentralised waste treatment facilities that provide the technical means to design and implement neighbourhood or even household waste treatment solutions. The fast evolution of digital manufacturing and the revolution of sensors result in the emergence of a new type of waste treatment equipment capable to work in a very small scale. There are many examples that will be detailed in my book.
For now, a good example of such a decentralised system is the London project LEAP – Micro Anaerobic Digestion. LEAP is is a cross sector partnership developing micro anaerobic digestion, a renewable technology that turns all organic waste (except wood) into a clean fuel and fertiliser. The biogas produced can be used for heating, cooking and lighting or be cleaned and compressed for use as a vehicle fuel. The fertiliser is a valuable product with excellent levels of nitrogen, good for food growing and turf strengthening. The impressive thing is the tiny scale of anaerobic digesters from 0.6 to 3 m3, so small that they can be easily used for the daily organic waste of a small park or even a neighbourhood of 100 people! For more details you can visit the four projects Camley Street Natural Park, Calthorpe Project, Alara Wholefoods, and Loop Management Services.
In general terms, it seems that the combination of digital manufacturing (3D printers) and the Do It Yourself (DIY) movement will deliver many completely tailor-made solutions for local waste management solutions. A typical example of DIY instructions and plans for a small scale anaerobic digester is given here.
While the emergence of such small or even tiny scale solutions is definitely reshaping the landscape, especially as I believe that they will soon become standardised commercial products, at the same time it creates new problems. As an example questions regarding the environmental control and monitoring of those decentralised solutions are becoming very important, while issues related to health and safety are becoming crucial in the absence of proper educated personnel. Maybe the answer to environmental control will be the Internet of Things and the interconnectivity of each and every product with its manufacturer, but the health and safety issues will remain a challenge, especially for the DIY solutions.