Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Operational Research and Waste Management

In the International Abstracts in Operations Research (IAOR), every abstract is given at least one subject category. We have a list of about 200 such, and an important part of the added value of IAOR is the fact that this assignment of categories takes place -- by an expert in O.R.. In addition, many papers have a free format description added, which is indexed in the print version and becomes a part of the online record. Over the last few years, there have been an increasing number of papers which have had the free format "Waste management" added. These papers have dealt with vehicle routing, crew scheduling, location of obnoxious facilities and other topics. It seems that this is a growing area of application for O.R..

I have my own problem in waste management, and have considered it from an O.R. perspective. How should I deal with the clippings from the hedge at home? The hedge is about 50 metres long, nearly two metres tall, and is privet. I use electric trimmers, once or twice a year. Privet branches tend to be long and straight, but there are a lot of them. The options are (1) to load them into the car and take them to the council dump, (2) to buy sacks from the council to be taken away by the garden refuse collection, (3) to burn them on a bonfire, (4) to shred them, (5) to leave them in a heap to rot slowly.

(1) and (2) are expensive options, and I would derive no benefit; (3) I reject on the basis that I do not like polluting the air and have no space for a fire; (5) is unsightly in the garden. So I shred the cuttings. But how? Over the years I have found that I can get a lot of shredding done with the rotary mower, simply by driving the mower over the trimmings as they have fallen on the ground. The method fails if the long straight branches have been raked -- the random alignment of branches is important. Some branches are not shredded by this process, and those go though a electric shredder -- which I do not use for the whole process as it is slower than the mower. Then I have to compost or use the shredded wood and leaves as mulch -- so I benefit from the nutrients; the garden is not totally organic, but I feel that I have done a little for the planet, and found my personal optimal solution. Now how can this process be written up as a journal paper?

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