Sustainability means taking into account in our work and in our daily lives all the resources upon the planet: humans, animals, plants, water, air, land space [etc] and managing them to grow and develop the resources that today exist, for the future. Therefore this wekk, I won’t just be talking of waste and recycling, but also of resource management. It is clear that managing waste it is essential if we want to have a sustainably responsible world. And managing waste it’s not only how we dispose garbage in landfill, or how much we recycle or what we recycle, but it is also how we do not create waste to start with. So how we REDUCE our waste production.
Waste management is the collection, transport, processing or disposal, managing and monitoring of waste materials. The term usually relates to materials produced by human activity, and the process is generally undertaken to reduce their effect on health and the environment. Waste materials can either be solid, liquid, gaseous or radioactive.
Waste management practices can be very different between developed and developing nations and for residential and industrial producers. Management for non-hazardous waste residential and institutional waste in metropolitan areas is usually the responsibility of local government authorities, while management for non-hazardous commercial and industrial waste is usually the responsibility of the generator subject to local, national or international controls.
Sustainable waste management
Definition: Using material resources efficiently to cut down on the amount of waste produced. And, where waste is generated, dealing with it in a way that actively contributes to the economic, social and environmental goals of sustainable development.
The different waste management options can be organised in an order known as the Waste Management Hierarchy, that reflects the relative sustainability of each.
One of the key principles underlying sustainable waste management is to ensure that waste is dealt with as high up the waste hierarchy as possible. Since all waste disposal options have some impact on the environment, the only way to avoid impact is not to produce waste in the first place, and waste prevention is therefore at the top of the hierarchy. Re-use, followed by recovery techniques (recycling, composting and generating energy from waste) follow, while disposal to landfill or by incineration, the worst options, are at the bottom of the hierarchy.
In deciding what is the most appropriate disposal route, both environmental and economic costs and benefits need to be considered. This decision should be reached taking into account all the costs and impacts associated with waste disposal, including those associated with the movement of waste. Wherever possible the proximity principle should be applied. This recognises that transporting waste has environmental, social and economic costs so, as a general rule, waste should be dealt with as near to the place of production as possible.
The birth of the waste management hierarchy can be traced to the 1970s, when the environment movement started to criticise the practice of disposal-based waste management. Rubbish was at that time regarded as a homogenous mass that should be buried; the environmental movements argued that rubbish was made of different materials that should be treated differently – some should be reused, some should be recycled or composted, some should be burnt and others buried (2). The hierarchy in a way echoes ideals that are widespread in human health and medicine, i.e. prevention is better than cure. It is difficult not to agree that it is more effective to try preventing the problems of waste, than to invest in reactive solutions once the problem has presented.
The idea of preventing the creation of waste instead of managing [and disposing] waste after it is created is a very radical position, and to successfully apply it a substantial changes in how
products, services and associated materials are consumed is needed:
“Technology application and the production of goods and services depends on using materials. The roots of all pollution ultimately devolve to decisions on what raw materials to extract and use and what synthetic or engineered materials are manufactured to make, transport, and package products. The problems of wastes and pollutants are directly related to the materials cycle. Hence, implementation of the prevention paradigm can be through changes in the materials cycle and, therefore, it is no surprise that environmentalists have increasingly focused on toxics-use reduction.” (2)
A major barrier to the implementation of the hierarchy is the fact that waste managers have little control over the generation of waste and therefore have limited capacity to achieve source reduction. Designers, engineers and managers in industry make decisions about what is manufactured, processed or constructed, and how this is done, and therefore the amount and type of waste generated. In order to be effective, the waste hierarchy needs to be tackled by working not only on the waste management system, but also on the production system (1).
- Schall, J., 1992, Does the Solid Waste management Hierarchy Make Sense? A Technical,
- Economic and Environmental Justification for the Priority of Source Reduction and Recycling. Working paper #1, Program on Solid Waste Policy, Yale University.
- Hirschhorn, Jackson and Baas 1993, Towards Prevention – the emerging environmental
- management paradigm, in Clean Production Strategies – Developing Preventative Environmental Management in the Industrial Economy.