MS-ERE, Sustainable Waste Management Concentration

Columbia University is the place to prepare you for a career that advances Sustainable Waste Management, anywhere in the world. Students gain a better understanding of present-day energy infrastructures, their strength and weaknesses and to scope out future technology developments for a world with seemingly insatiable demands for materials and energy.

Guidelines for MS-ERE Thesis

View the guidelines for writing a Master of Science Thesis in Earth and Environmental Engineering.

Scope

A 2007 study by the Goddard Institute of Space Studies and the Earth Engineering Center (EEC) of Columbia University established that the amount of solid wastes generated in a particular nation followed closely the consumption of energy.

On the average, U.S. citizens generate twice as much municipal solid wastes (MSW; about 1 metric ton per capita) as Europeans and Japanese who have nearly the same standard of living. They also use twice as much energy. Therefore, there is a lot of room for waste and energy reduction in the U.S.  However, the goal of "zero waste" is unattainable as has been demonstrated by the most environmentally conscious nations, such as Japan, where every possible effort is made to promote recycling and yet they combust or gasify about 79% of their MSW (0.35 metric tons per capita).

Recycling: Recycling is the next best thing to do after waste reduction and in the U.S. it has reached the average of 20% of the MSW.

Composting: Both aerobic and anaerobic composting is the next step in the hierarchy of waste management. It is practical only for source-separated organics; otherwise, much of the compost product is not usable as a soil conditioner and ends up in landfills. About 9% of the U.S. MSW is composted; most of it is source-separated yard wastes composted in open windrows.

Waste-to-Energy: Of the post-recycling/composting wastes of the world's urban population, nearly 200 million tons of MSW are processed in waste-to-energy (WTE) plants that recover the energy content of wastes in the form of electricity or district heating. Of the U.S. MSW, only 7% is treated in WTE plants and 63% is landfilled. In comparison only 27% of the E.U. MSW is landfilled.

Landfilling: Most of the global urban MSW, over one billion tons, is landfilled. Eventually, only inorganic, non-recyclable materials will be landfilled in most nations, as already is the case in Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands. However, until there is sufficient global WTE capacity, China is rapidly becoming one of the WTE leaders and India has started to move in this direction. Uncontrolled landfilling is a major anthropogenic source of methane, the second most important greenhouse gas affecting climate change.

Audience

The M.S. concentration in Sustainable Waste Management is aimed at professionals with a minimum background of a B.S. degree in an engineering or equivalent science discipline interested in industry, government or education careers in what has become the most costly sector of urban management. The MS-ERE degree aims at preparing a new generation of engineering professionals who will be involved with the rebuilding of a world materials and energy infrastructure that today is stretched nearly beyond the limits of its capacity.

The program aims at young engineers and active professionals who see their future in the large and international energy development markets. Problems facing the industrialized countries, the emerging economies and the poor countries of the world differ substantially, and a one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely to work.

Coursework

A total of 30 credits, including a 3-credit research course or a 6-credit thesis, are required. For students with a B.S. or a B.A., preferably with a science major, up to 48 points are required to allow for make-up undergraduate courses. Any changes should be done in consultation with the student’s advisor. For a list of classes please visit the Student Orientation booklet.