Reversing the negative effects of pollution can sometimes be as easy as cleaning up waste and litter. If people can turn this pollution into valuable products in the process, then it’s a double bonus for society and the environment. Scientists around the world have been trying to find ways to turn pollution into value.
However, finding alternative uses for litter is no good without an end market. Businesses, industries and people need to be willing to pay for the products. Luckily, researchers have found several markets for recycled goods and pollution byproducts. They have been cleaning the soil, air and water – turning the litter into value.
Soil pollution products
Soils can become contaminated with metals, chemicals and litter items. The main solution used around the world is to dig out the polluted soil and send it to a landfill. This does not solve the problem, though, as these contaminants can leach out of the soil in the landfill and find their way into underground water systems.
Researchers have now started to use phytoremediation to solve the problem of soil pollution. Phytoremediation is the process of using plants to naturally filter and clean contaminated soil. The plants absorb metals and chemicals – sometimes even changing the pH balance of the soil in the process.
For example, the Chinese brake fern (Pteris vittata) can absorb arsenic from soil. This plant is being grown in areas surrounding old mines to clean the soil of harmful toxins. Other plants are able to absorb heavy metals and store them in their cells. These plants are then sent to a biorefinery where they are processed and the metals are harvested.
Air pollution by-products
One of the major problems that we are all facing at the moment is carbon dioxide emissions in the air; arguably the leading contributor to global warming. Scientists have already developed a variety of filters and products that can capture carbon dioxide from the air. Factories are being fitted with chimney stack filters and storage tanks are used to store the captured carbon dioxide from the chimney gases.
This carbon dioxide can either be sold as a raw gas for various industrial purposes, or it can be converted into other valuable chemicals such as methanol and cleaning solvents. Carbon dioxide can also be used to manufacture nitrogen fertilisers and lactic acid (a type of food preservative).
Water pollution products
The water from our homes and offices is often unusable due to the toxins, detergents and organic pollutants contained within. This is why water treatment facilities are so important. They filter and clean our wastewater to a sufficient degree that it can be reused for non-potable purposes. However, these water pollutants may still have value, so researchers are trying to harvest them.
Wastewater often contains nitrogen and phosphorus – both are valuable soil nutrients that can be harvested and turned into agricultural fertilisers. Scientists have also started producing electricity from wastewater pollutants. Microbial fuel cells are placed into the water where microorganisms break down toxic organic compounds and produce energy in the process. This turns wastewater into a type of battery.
There are many new ways of harnessing pollution and turning it into a valuable advantage for society and the environment. Environmental engineers are coming up with some clever solutions to clean the environment and generate value at the same time.
Averda is a leading waste management provider with over 50 years of experience across three continents. Through growth, transformation and engagement, we strive to find new ways of managing waste while protecting the community and environment.
By pairing international expertise with local insights, we have secured our position as one of South Africa’s most respected providers of waste management and industrial cleaning services. We also operate in the recycling, pipe inspection, CCTV, infrastructure inspection, hydro-demolition, high-pressure water jetting and catalyst handling industries.
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