The humble disposable nappy leads a fairly dejected life. After just one use, it’s on the way to landfill where it sits for roughly 200-500 years, waiting to decompose. What if we could find a better use for that nappy? And what if we could do the same with plastics, food and other items that wind up in the current broken ‘waste’ management system. What if…


riven by throw-away consumerism, the current population is simply

generating too much waste. As a result, UK landfill sites are reaching their maximum capacity. One alternative is to keep digging deeper holes - unsurprisingly, this is by no means a long-term solution.

RECYCLING IS NOT THE ANSWER More than 270 million tonnes of waste is recycled worldwide every year. Ever since the introduction of kerbside collections in the 1980s, recycling has been seen as the environmental solution to the global resource management problem. But it is still not enough. Sustainably managing our resources on a

mass scale is something that’s increasingly being debated and discussed by individuals, organisations and leaders worldwide. But as we all know, there’s no quick fix to dealing with the rapidly growing mountains of excess resource in a way that won’t damage the environment. While a global sustainable solution is

yet to be determined right now, some significant breakthroughs are being made in enabling society to reduce its carbon footprint and better define its relationship with the resources that surround us. In fact, one project in particular has made it possible to transform resources into energy and reduce CO2

levels. The HERU is a UK innovation that

takes everyday items, which would previously have been discarded as ‘waste’, such as coffee cups, plastics and discarded food, and converts them into energy to heat water within households and commercial buildings.

HOW DOES IT WORK? In a similar fashion to other household white goods, the domestic HERU requires a water supply, standard 32-amp socket, flow and return to a thermal store, gas pipe to the boiler and sewer pipe connection. Using heat treatment, via pyrolysis,

energy-rich items are loaded into the HERU, then oxygen is removed as the resource reaches 100°C and the moisture is boiled off as steam. The steam passes over the HERU’s heat exchangers, recovering the energy for use in the hot

water system. The remaining dried resource is then heated to 300°C (572F) in the absence of oxygen. This releases an oily vapour containing synthetic gas, which is cleaned using a water screen filtration system, compressed and then stored, ready to be used as fuel in boilers. The current ‘waste’ management

system is somewhat counter-productive. While people may feel they're doing their bit to be environmentally friendly by separating glass from cardboard, kerbside collection lorries are one of the least efficient vehicles on the road. Fuelled by diesel, they reportedly

average a measly three miles per gallon, burn around £40,000 of fuel a year and emit around 20 times the carbon emissions of the average UK home.

CONCERNING CARBON OUTPUTS Today’s waste supply chain is extremely carbon-intensive. This applies from the transportation in heavy-duty vehicles through to the infrastructure and techniques required to process the ‘waste’ and recyclables. According to National Grid, about 83 per

cent of homes use gas to provide heat. Only 45 per cent of this gas supply comes from UK production, with 38 per cent originating from European/Russian pipelines and 17 per cent from liquefied natural gas tankers. This is a natural and finite resource. In 2017, the UK government reported that approximately 11 per cent of homes in England live in ‘fuel poverty’, meaning they cannot afford to keep their homes adequately heated. By converting everyday materials into

energy and avoiding the creation of ‘waste’, the HERU’s heat energy outputs are used where they are needed the most, in turn helping to address fuel poverty. This is a highly efficient process, as nothing is lost in transportation or requires processing in carbon intensive infrastructures, which hugely reduces the amount of carbon generated.

ENVIRONMENTAL CREDENTIALS Ten months of successful technical evaluations at Wychavon District Council, six months of trials at Hillers Farm Shop in Warwickshire and trials underway at Rugby Borough Council, coupled with


detailed independent assessment of the technology by Ricardo Energy & Environment, have found that the HERU could take the average 68m2

home with

the average occupancy of 2.4 people producing one tonne of resource, previously discarded as ‘waste’, from a

positive contribution of 1.6 tonnes of CO2 per year to minus 80kg CO2

per year for

space heating and hot water with a HERU, gas boiler and the electric grid mix of Norway in 2012. A saving of 1680kg CO2

per year, per home; 27 million UK

homes equalling 45 million tonnes of CO2 per year saved.

Global warming is an existential crisis

that’s becoming more severe with every passing minute. We all must take personal responsibility for implementing and driving innovations that will help combat this universal dilemma. The wider adoption of the HERU would

potentially mean a massive reduction in wheelie bins, kerbside boxes and plastic dustbin bags, as well as the need for only a bi-monthly collection of glass and metal. With the reliance of home-sized appliances delivering energy at the push of a button, we’d all have the power to take resource management into our own hands and give the environment a much needed helping hand too.


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