Researchers at North Carolina State University have created a free tool that makes use multiple computational models to help solid-waste systems achieve their environmental goals in a cost-effective manner.
Waste management systems do much more than just dump solid waste into landfills. These systems must not only store and recycle solid waste safely but also minimize health risks, reduce environmental risks, and minimize greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that can be created when solid waste is processed.
James Levis, coauthor of the paper and research assistant professor of civil construction and environmental engineering at NC State, says, “The problem is that there are many things waste management systems could do to achieve these goals.” Many of those actions are subject to trade-offs in terms cost, environmental impact, technical difficulties, and so forth.
“To address these issues, we have created an open source tool called the Solid Waste Optimization life-cycle in Python (SwolfPy), that allows users assess all of these options in a single place. This tool can help users decide the best course for each situation. Open-source means that the solid waste community can continue to develop new features over time to make this tool more useful in decision-making.
“SwolfPy can be dynamic,” Mojtaba Sardarmehni (corresponding author and NC State Ph.D student), said. “For example, if someone creates a better model of one of its components, the platform will allow users update SwolfPy.”
The SwolfPy framework contains a variety of process models as well as a user interface that allows users to input data relevant to their particular circumstances. SwolfPy will then run the numbers, and do two things. It provides a quick snapshot of the current operations and how it impacts their environmental and cost goals. SwolfPy allows users to choose the best combination or combinations of processes that will allow them meet their targets for cost and GHG emissions.
However, users don’t need to use the default SwolfPy models. You can create process models that are tailored to your specific projects and connect them to SwolfPy. Or you can use both the default and customized models. SwolfPy allows users the ability to input their target numbers into the interface. SwolfPy will tell them which combination will bring them closer to their goals.
Sardarmehni stated that there isn’t always one right solution. “For example, one process may be the most cost-effective while another option is more cost-effective but does a better job of reducing GHG emission. SwolfPy helps users identify the best options based on their priorities.
Levis says, “We believe SwolfPy will prove to be a useful instrument for waste management firms, government decision-makers who deal with solid waste, state policymakers, and the research community.”
SwolfPy is available online already https://swolfpy-project.github.io/.
Levis says, “We’re open for people in the solid-waste community who have questions or ideas about how SwolfPy could be used, and what can be done to keep it as a practical tool.”
This work was made possible by the National Science Foundation under grant number 1437498 and the Environmental Research and Education Foundation.