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Dictionary

Waste Management

The aims of waste management are to prevent the entry of harmful substances into the environment, to protect human health, to maintain the quality of landscape and urban aesthetic values, and to improve economic and industrial efficiency. The reduction of wastes of all types serves all of these aims simultaneously.

  • Waste management

    • Waste management is concerned with three categories of waste: solid, liquid and gaseous.

      Human activities, whether domestic, commercial or industrial, convert usable materials or products to a state which is no longer useful for the original purpose. These materials can be either re-used, their composite substances separated and recycled through industrial processing, or they can be disposed of. Disposal may involve energy recovery: directly if incinerated (wood, plastic), or indirectly if converted to fuel (biomass, oils). Solid and liquid wastes can be placed in a long-term deposit, such as a landfill.

      Waste
      Recycling bins are thankfully a common site in most countries

      The aims of waste management are to prevent the entry of harmful substances into the environment, to protect human health, to maintain the quality of landscape and urban aesthetic values, and to improve economic and industrial efficiency. The reduction of wastes of all types serves all of these aims simultaneously.

      Waste
      Waste managment is a visible sign of government efficiency

      The organisations involved in waste management are government agencies, local municipal councils, public utilities, environment services, NGOs, and the general public. The scale of the refuse accumulation problem is a liability for governments and social stability.

      In September, 2015, the Lebanese government was placed under siege in Beirut by an angry populace protesting against the lack of rubbish collection. It became a symbol of dysfunctional government and corruption in public institutions. Naples, Italy, has experienced frequent interruptions to rubbish collection, due to industrial action, government inefficiency, and corruption. These cases remind us that vermin, disease and malodour are serious public health concerns and causes of social unrest.

      See also:

      Green Paper for a European Strategy for Plastic Waste Management in the Environment (March 2013)

  • Solid municipal waste

    • Municipal waste is waste collected by municipalities from residential and commercial premises. The other general categories of waste are industrial and agricultural.

      Municipal waste entails large volumes, with corresponding high costs for collection and disposal for municipalities. The degree of recycling is increasing in most places, and is an effective means of reducing the volume of waste that needs to be landfilled. In Germany and Switzerland, most solid municipal waste is incinerated in special plants, with typically 70% of the heat energy being available for power and heating usage.

      Glass, metals, paper, PET, batteries, etc., can be recycled. Wood and other organic material (from kitchen and garden) can be used as an energy resource, anerobic digestion (bio-fuel), and for composting.

      Waste

      However, the best option for waste management remains minimising its creation. Maximising environmental criteria (Green Design) ensures that during manufacture, waste materials, energy, and emissions to air, water and ground are kept to a minimum.

      The law requires that certain categories of solid waste be handled separately. Hazardous waste is waste which presents a danger to the environment and/or human health, so requires special procedures for handling, storage, and disposal. Examples of hazardous waste include: batteries (heavy metals), medical waste (radioactive and biological dangers), heavy metals, electronic scrap, and any substance which is toxic, caustic, or explosive. There are laws governing the restriction of mixing of wastes, which may be hazardous only when secondary products results from reactions.

  • Waste-to-energy

    • One of the most positive trends of the past decade is the compulsory incineration of municipal waste in Germany and Switzerland. Waste that cannot be effectively recycled or otherwise utilised is burnt to reclaim the energy it contains. This heat is used for district heating or for electricity generation. Not every country in Europe exploits this resource fully.

      In this table the numbers stand for kg/capita:

      Country Waste generated Material recycling Landfill/ disposal Incineration Composting/ digestion
      2001 2013 2001 2013 2001 2013 2001 2013 2001 2013
      EU 521 481 88 131 278 146 82 123 50 71
      Germany 632 617 238 290 161 1 140 218 92 108
      Switzerland 660 702 218 236 28 0 325 344 89 122
      France 526 530 72 110 214 150 174 180 65 89
      Italy 516 491 62 122 349 181 44 99 30 72
      Austria 576 578 140 142 192 23 65 202 231 192
      UK 691 482 54 133 473 165 43 102 19 77

      Data source: ec.europa.eu/eurostat

      It can be seen from this table that the EU on the whole still landfills 30% of municipal waste, with no attempt to reclaim its value for recycling, reuse, composting, or energy content. Switzerland and Germany are the only countries to have almost eliminated this wasteful practice.

      With the ever-increasing amounts of waste from a growing, high-consumption population, during the 1990s it became apparent that there was going to be a shortfall in available suitable land for landfilling. Germany and Switzerland therefore pioneered the transition to optimised waste management:

      • The quantities of all waste types are reduced as much as possible through better logistics, design and consumer awareness.
      • Waste is separated by consumers into the different categories at local collection sites.
      • As much of the waste as possible (glass, paper, PET, metals, organic residues, construction waste...) is fed back into the economy through appropriate material streams. Important here is the German June 2005 general ban on the landfilling of untreated waste: the decision is not only an economic one.
      • Substances which could present hazards for the environment and human health are also separately collected and the danger they present neutralised.
      • Where recycling or other use is not possible, waste is burnt to reclaim their energy content.
    • Waste minimisation

      • Municipal wastes are considerable in volume, and cause onerous costs to city councils for their collection and disposal. In line with sustainable development policies, recycling is a first step in solid municipal and industrial waste management. A major aim of recycling is the reduction of the quantities of waste which are landfilled.

        Waste

        Waste is separated, initially by the consumer, into the range of materials which are then entered by municipal councils into separate management streams, for reuse or recycling of substances, or exploitation of energy content. This aims to ensure that only wastes which have no value as material or energy sources are taken to be deposited in a landfill.

        The substances which are most easily recycled are: glass, metals (ferrous and non-ferrous), paper, PET.

        Substances which are reclaimed for their energy value: wood, organic waste (kitchen and garden), and oils. These are either incinerated for electricity production converted to biofuels, or composted for use as agricultural fertiliser. Much other waste, such as plastic, can be incinerated, but there are problems related to the flue gases generated, such as dioxins. The resultant inert furnace slag is then landfilled.

        Some solid wastes must by law be handled separately because they qualify for a special waste category. Hazardous wastes are those which present a danger to the environment or human health unless treated specifically prior to disposal. Some common examples are: batteries, medical waste (bio-hazards), heavy metals, electronic scrap, and any substance which is toxic, caustic, or explosive. There are also regulations for restricting the mixing of wastes which may produce dangerous secondary products.