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Newsletter and Technical Publications
<Municipal Solid Waste Management>

Sound Practices
Overview of the Sound Practices Section

1.1.1 Introduction

This section of the Source Book aims to give practical guidance to urban managers in developing countries and countries with economies in transition regarding sound practices available in municipal solid waste management (MSWM). To do this, it draws on the experience of people and organizations involved in MSWM from both industrialized and developing countries. By discussing and assessing current practices, it seeks to clarify the conditions under which specific technologies and policies are most appropriate for use in developing countries.

But what is a sound practice? One might immediately ask, Sound for accomplishing what? or, Sound in which circumstances? or, Sound for whom? The entire arena under discussion, from waste minimization to final disposal, is connected in numerous ways to many other environmental, economic, and social issues; most of the answers in waste management have broader implications.

With that in mind, we will conceive of a sound practice in this book as a technology or policy that embodies a reasonable balance of feasible, cost-effective, sustainable, environmentally beneficial, and socially sensitive solutions to MSWM problems. Stated differently, sound practices function together to achieve defined solid waste policy goals, while appropriately responding to the entire set of conditions that constrain the choices available in specific MSWM decisions.

This means, first and foremost, that a sound practice not only achieves a specific goal in MSWM, but that, to the extent possible, it takes into account the demands of the specific situation where a proposed solution is to be implemented. In the end, determining what constitutes sound practice is context-specific. The variety of factors that help determine what is sound in a situation is sufficiently large that any recommendation must be tested against the reality of a particular circumstance.

It is important to note that, under this definition, the environmental ideals that guide the identification of sound practices are not always embodied in a particular sound practice. This is due to the fact that, beyond a certain point, additional investments in environmental improvement are likely to lead to diminishing returns. Therefore, rather than striving for absolute avoidance of pollution or risk to human beings, policy makers should direct resources where they would yield the greatest return to society. For example, while MSWM decision makers may strive to capture the recyclable components in the waste stream and to minimize the environmental damage done by the handling and final disposition of waste, sound practice will require that resources be allocated in a way that seeks the balanced achievement of all of society's goals. In practice, a level of spending on environmental improvements can be reached where the environmental benefits from any further spending would be less than the benefits from investing more in education, roads, or hospitals. That said, the enormous problems posed by MSW remain, and it is the purpose of this section to suggest what practices tend to make sense, when viewed in the broader context. Since general guidance and the experience of others can be extremely useful in assessing and adjusting current MSWM practices and in planning new systems, this book will identify sound practices in a variety of MSWM activities. The areas covered in this Sound Practices section of the Source Book are:

a. waste reduction,
b. collection and transfer,
c. composting,
d. incineration,
e. landfills, and
f. special wastes.

These areas correspond to the first six topics addressed in each of the regional overviews that form part of Section 3 of the Source Book.

Management capabilities, project financing, and economic assessment are all important when dealing with urban infrastructure issues, including MSWM. There are sometimes situations in which the difficulty experienced by urban managers in planning and directing concrete projects in a cost-effective way may overshadow the need for technical solutions to MSWM problems. In other cases, there is a tendency for MSWM decisions to be made without sufficient planning, to take into account only some aspects of a situation, to be based on a short-term view of the situation, or to be influenced by the interests of political elites. Overcoming these tendencies will greatly facilitate the identification of the best solution in a given circumstance. This section of the Source Book addresses these issues in the context of the topics listed above, aiming to shed some light on ways that management can be more effective. It also touches on the broader need to integrate environmental policy with economic development policy.

The Sound Practices section of the Source Book briefly reviews the criteria decision makers should use in evaluating alternatives and the background conditions that affect what makes something a sound practice. After discussing the importance of planning, this section tackles each of the substantive areas listed above, striving to evaluate the various practices in use today.

 

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