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Evaluating Waste-to-Energy Processes and Technologies — A SWANA Scholarship Application Essay

November 28, 2023

By: Sarah Chen, Student at the University of British Columbia

The essay below was submitted by Sarah Chen, a student who applied for the Grant H. Flint Scholarship. She is attending the University of British Columbia with a planned major of Environmental Engineering with an expected graduation date of December 2024.

Waste is an important and continuing topic that is only becoming worse. However, countries such as Sweden have changed the meaning behind waste and has set an example for other nations with its renewable energy generation and emissions reduction. Sweden revolutionized the concept of waste management. With such an inspiring narrative, I have redefined my personal perspective on waste.


I first became involved with solid waste when I volunteered for the City of Richmond as a Green Ambassador. Here, I participated in a waste diversion program which also instigated my passion for educating people on the importance of waste management. I then chose a field in environmental engineering to find innovative solutions with creative designs. As this program is very diverse, I have been exposed to a variety of engineering principles and environmental concerns. However, I find myself most interested in subjects associated with the utilization of waste. I have worked on (1) mitigating solid waste through a capstone equivalent design of a plasma gasification system for a landfill in Alberta to (2) designing a biosolids management facility and utilized the waste for cement kilns. Being exposed to a diverse range of projects has altered my perspective and in turn, influenced the way I now design projects. I have grown to interpret problems differently and view “waste” as an opportunity for great return.

Although reducing waste is the main priority, growing trends in waste disposal remains an issue. This is the reason for the increase in alternative solutions. Asia and Europe have had a growth in the number of waste-to-energy projects, and I envision the same for North America. This noticeable pattern of an increase in technology is evident in densely populated areas due to constraints in available space. Fortunately, the results have been astonishing, and I hope to take part in developing the growing waste- to-energy sector in Canada. The case for Canada is just as urgent, especially with growing populations and regulations on landfills. Landfills now must find new solutions to accommodate for the uprise in waste disposal. From improving the efficiency of technology to inspiring others; I hope to become an influential figure within the waste sector.

A major concern that has gotten traction recently involves the textile industry; in fact, Canada is just beginning to realize the magnitude of this problem. On a yearly basis, around 500,000 tonnes of textile waste are disposed of in Canada. Recycling of textiles with mechanical processes is inefficient due to the variety of materials on clothes. This prevents clothes from being recycled and instead incinerated or discarded into landfills. I am currently working on a pilot pyrolysis facility at UBC and will also be researching the different methods to recover textiles. This project will include suggestions on the most viable option for textile waste recovery. The purpose of this research is to support and meet Canada’s goal in reducing the nation’s waste by 30% in 2030. With this opportunity, I hope to become more proficient in understanding waste-to-energy processes and bring this technology to the forefront as one of Canada’s leading options to mitigate waste.

As a way of recognizing some of the outstanding scholarship applications nominated to SWANA by our chapters across the United States and Canada, we are posting applicants' one-page essays on our blog. The essay, which was 10 percent of their application score, was to speak to the role solid waste management plays in addressing an environmental issue currently in the news. We asked, “What are the responsibilities of individuals who generate the waste versus the professionals tasked with managing the waste?”

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