Degrade, Remove, Recover: 3 Steps To Success

By Graziano Beolchi | Updates

Mar 04

Degradation, removal and recovery of pollution with natural tools is an asset for environmental businesses. Let's move further.

The degradation, the removal and if possible the complete (or partial) recovery of pollution should be provided all together by an environmental service provider. This means that you'll have more opportunities to satisfy clients,

Let's see why we might say that degradation, removal and recovery of pollutants provided together (like a "package") are steps to your success.

Degradation Brings A Double Benefit

Pollution degradation is likely the best solution for your clients. This is a particularly attractive solution when dealing with high loads of contamination. In soil, in water and even in the air. Unfortunately, this option is not always possible and feasible.

There are so many chemicals that do not undergo a degradation process. To be more clear, we are referring to natural transformations. Just think about the most hard to treat categories of chemicals, like POPs (persistent organic pollutants) and many complex molecules (chlorinated, halogenated, brominated and fluorinated compounds).

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In the presence of such chemicals it's possible to turn the remediation process into a removal. We'll see with more detail how to perform a good work in the following paragraph. For the moment, let's focus the attention on how to follow the correct decision - making process when our focus is the degradation of chemical compounds.

First thing first: if your are dealing with biodegradable compounds, you are covered. This means that you can start degrading pollutants by breaking them into simpler molecules. With the application of some natural processes, like composting (the easiest to use), you can achieve a very good result.

But you always must to care about a serious side effect.

When you degrade pollutants (possibly with cost-free options, in order to provide the best benefit for your client), beware of what you are going to create, as byproducts. In some cases (a quite frequent case, to be honest) your degradation products may be more dangerous than their parent compound.

Let's see an example. If you are working on areas polluted by pesticides, you can rely on some great solutions to degrade them into their transformation products. For example, DDT will become DDE/DDD, which are toxic and must be removed in turn.

Another very common example. The so-called synthetic organophosphates (OPs) are the most frequently and widely used insecticides, accounting for an estimated 34% of world-wide insecticide sales: Chlorpyrifos likely is the most diffused of this category, and its degradation product (TCP) is also very toxic to the environment and human's health.

This basically means that you cannot consider the remediation "good" for the purpose. So, you always must keep in mind the following "code of conduct".

  • before to consider degradation as an option, you need to assess what and how many pollutants are responsive to a natural treatment
  • among the biodegradable compounds, you need to know if their transformation products are toxic 
  • you need also to know what natural processes may be feasible to further degrade such transformation products
  • if no solutions (natural processes) are available, you must to include into your service an additional step, namely the removal of toxic transformation products

So, the biological degradation you can for sure add to your expertise needs to be very careful. In some cases, and depending on your target pollutants, you are force to integrate this service with the removal of transformation products.

A significant side effect, no doubts. However, is you succeed in including this option into a more effective strategy, it's worth it.

You can in fact recover energy from the degradation process. And such energy is good for you, your client and the environment as well.

Removal Is Another Stage

As we've seen above, the removal of pollutants is an essential step for your business activity. To be clear: we know that you already are providing this service, but it's time to bring your offer for clients to a whole new level.

Pollution removal can occur from the air, the water and the ground. To gain the maximum benefit from this process, please follow the rules below.

  • always use natural products and resources to remove pollutants (particularly valid for treating contaminated waters)
  • start using locally available resources, but remember that in the treatment of waters does not necessarily need the application of local biomasses (if you are using them an an adsorbent, so a NO LIVING biomass)
  • give top priority to a biomass that allows both of the following tasks: effective removal of pollutants AND a great potential for energy yield.
  • you definitely want to obtain the best from your previously applied biomass, so please turn it into an energy resource after the use
  • think about the true possibility of applying the product of pollution degradation (i.e. compost) like an adsorbent for other chemicals your client is dealing with

This "code of conduct" allows your business to complete the pollution remediation service. And it does ii more effectively. Most important, it does it without the need to invest additional money.

Let's see an example. If you are working as a service provider for waste water treatment inside a coal power plant, you are dealing with a huge amount of heavy metals and other hard to treat chemicals. You can use some specific and widely diffused algal species to setup the most effective natural treatment for polluted waters at no additional costs. The final removal rate can reach 100%, so nobody will do it better than you. To make things even better, you can turn this biomass into a valuable energy source despite its contamination after the adsorption of pollutants. A win-win scheme that literally is a game-changer. And you can do that over and over again.

If you remember what we've considered about the "inside & outside advanced recycling", the real asset provided by your company has to be: better and more services, at no increased costs.

But you can earn more by doing so. In fact, more clients will come to you as the BEST problem solver.

More problems solved at no higher costs = a leader in your space.

All that is very good, but.. what if you could do even more?

Recovery Is The "A-HA" Moment For Clients

The degradation of pollution is probably the main task your client will ask you to perform, unless you are an energy service provider and you are looking for more energy-specific solutions.

But, at this time, you already realized that pollution degradation is essential also for energy purposes. At the very same time, you have to opportunity to couple degradation and removal to increase benefits.

To be honest, you MUST couple them.

By acting this way, you already gained a huge advantage over your competition. But you can do more, because when you've done degradation, removal and energy generation by exploiting pollutants as a "raw material", your business is just "a few steps away from the stars".

Just think about that: what if you could even recover pollutants and recycle them for other purposes? They may be sent to the clients (if they are in need of a precious resource). But they also can be sold to other business sectors, to further increase your earnings and especially your total reliability as a service provider.

There are so many biomasses able to remove pollution from the water (mostly). But you also can remove pollution from the ground, even in the worst case scenarios (ranging from pesticides up to radioactive contamination).

Let's see another very illustrative example. If you are dealing with pollution by pesticides, you may want to start a degradation process. But, as we have seen in the first paragraph, you must be very very careful. In fact, some transformation products are more toxic than the parent compound. So, you want to use some other inexpensive and readily available materials to remove them (i.e. mushrooms, plants, algal biomass etc.). Once toxic byproducts are removed, you can recover such pollutants for the best (and most convenient) application for your business. Most important, you can present this additional opportunity to your clients, to impress them with a real "a-ha" moment that they simply can't ignore. 

You must be a "strategist". This does mean that you should know in advance IF and especially HOW MUCH the recovery of pollutants is important for your client's business.

Just think about the importance of some organic compounds, like hydrocarbons, for the oil & gas industry.

More in general, all sectors that are currently experiencing a progressive shortage of their main resources, will be all ears when you'll present them this opportunity.

A strategy made of degradation, removal, energy & pollution recovery is the best asset your business can provide to a client, whoever it is. Of course, such an approach may not always be feasible, so you have to be guided along the way to generate the best benefit for your company.

Graziano Beolchi
Cleankeeping CEO

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About the Author

Graziano Beolchi (Dr.G) is an environmental & public health doctor working for 10+ years in the research of natural solutions to waste disposal, pollution remediation & natural energy generation.