Women's Earth & Climate Action Network, International
The Women's Earth & Climate Action Network is a solutions-based, multi-faceted effort established to engage women worldwide to take action as powerful stakeholders in climate change and sustainability solutions. For Our Earth and Future Generations A project of Women's Earth and Climate Caucus and its partner eraGlobal Alliance
« Renewable Energy, Green Business, Cities, Lifestyles, Community Conservation

Waste to Energy

Started by: Anne Marie Miller


Sustainable Waste Design’s focus is on providing complete waste solutions that integrate waste disposal, environmental protection, energy production, and material recycling and repurposing within the context of creating closed loop, economically justified, and intelligently designed systems.

SWD’s approach is to develop waste to energy systems that are designed to offer the full potential of intelligent waste management; sustainability through maximal recapture of usable energy, material, and other byproducts of waste, minimization of waste’s environmental impact, and optimization of waste processing economics.

To this end, SWD has sourced a scalable, containerized advanced pyrolysis system that processes mixed waste streams without combustion and converts the gaseous output into electricity at high efficiency, while minimizing emissions.

The units are fully mobile and self-sustaining except for minor external fuel needs for startup. Each unit is capable of processing 12-17 tons per day of waste, and scale up is accomplished through parallel operation of multiple units. Because of their mobility and compact design, the units are extremely adaptable and are usefully applied in everything from static municipal installations to dynamic disaster relief and mobile cleanup operations. 

Reasons for working in this topic, project or business:

As unappealing as waste management may seem from the perspective of an environmental movement with a historical tendency to overly rely on anthropomorphized animals, the truth is that environmentally conscious waste management is overlooked and under served. The irony is that uncontrolled waste is doing horrendous damage to life on earth through the introduction of toxic byproducts like dioxins into the environment or the mechanical ingestion of plastic particles by sealife, etc.

The worst part is that better waste management is not prevented by technological barriers at this point, although its progress may be slowed by overly-conservative forces within the large private waste management companies that steer development.

I am doing this work first and foremost because I wish to serve the movement of transformation towards a more environmentally conscious society. And I have chosen waste management because there is urgent need, and there is a very real opportunity for massive progress in a short time frame, if the barriers to progress can be overcome. 

Root causes of the problems in this field and main barriers:

The root causes of our waste problem are evident to all; too much waste is being produced. There is no question that the primary attack on waste management must be closing the loop and moving away from a cradle to grave mentality with material production and industry.

Beyond that, there is simply a decreasing availability of acceptable waste disposal avenues, and many of those we have classically utilized (like open dumps and uncontained landfills) have been found to have massive environmental consequences, namely the leaching of toxins into the environment, and the production of potent greenhouse gasses including methane and carbon dioxide. In addition, the costs of landfilling have risen dramatically as trash has to be moved farther for suitable facilities, and such facilities have become more expensive.

In developing countries, these problems are compounded by the lack of societal education regarding the negative consequences of uncontrolled waste disposal.

Solutions are needed that are both environmentally viable and economically justifiable – and these are the promises of waste to energy technologies, scores of which are already commercially available but under-utilized in many regions. The problem for newer technologies, produced by smaller companies, is the same faced in other industries; municipalities are generally not willing to accept any risk on new and emerging technologies – even when the basic processes have been extensively realized in other regions. But it is these resistant regions who now have the most outstanding waste management problems.  

What is needed to overcome barriers to implement solutions:

Because the main consumers of waste management technologies are municipalities, and because many of the worst management situations are in developing countries where the municipalities are financially impaired, there needs to be external development funds injected into waste to energy projects in order to take on some of the risk and provide a catalyst to initial development.

Once technology uptake begins in new regions, its growth will be self-motivated because of the economic incentives and energy benefits of waste to energy technologies (the provision of cheap electricity and/or other fuels like diesel). However, for many regions, such as CARICOM where we are focused, we are only at the cusp of such uptake and require outside financial catalysts.

As well, because each region provides a specific waste management challenge, development funds are needed to ensure that new technologies can be adequately adapted to new environments, a process requiring new research and development. 

Specific needs and/or support requests:

Our main need is willing financial development with the ability to take on some risk of the introduction of a technology to a new region, or partners willing to subsidize the needed waste management development on behalf of the environmental initiatives the resulting systems will help to address. 

Networking opportunities:

Other interest groups who have a large stake in the development of waste management solutions include those focused on:

            -Plastic pollution in oceans

            -Toxic leachates in the environment

            -Waste-related public health issues (sewage, air pollution, water pollution)

            -Disaster relief (where waste creates acute health and environmental crises)

            -Climate change (waste decomposition produces significant GHGs)

            -Energy sources for developing economies

            -Urban development

            -Waste management for infrastructure development


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