Newsletter and Technical Publications
<Municipal Solid Waste Management>
Worldwide agenda for solid waste management
Environmentally sound management of increasing amounts of difficult-to-treat
or organic wastes is among the topics of major concern today in most cities. The
logical starting point for solid waste management is to reduce the amounts of
waste that must be managed, that is, collected and disposed of as nuisances and
hazards. Agenda 21, the agreement reached among participating nations at the
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in
1992, emphasized, in Chapter 21, that reducing wastes and maximizing
environmentally sound waste reuse and recycling should be the first steps in
waste management. The environmental, social, and economic benefits of
integrating practices of waste reduction into MSWM are the bases for an emerging
worldwide agenda for solid waste management.
This section addresses sound practices in relation to the general topic of
waste reduction. The emphasis is on decision making at the local (i.e.,
Importance of waste reduction
In the affluent countries, the main motivations for waste reduction are
frequently related to the high cost and scarcity of sites for landfills, and the
environmental degradation caused by toxic materials in the deposited wastes. The
same considerations apply to large metropolitan areas in developing countries
that are surrounded by other populous jurisdictions. The places that currently
do not have significant disposal pressures can still benefit from encouraging
waste reduction. Their solid waste departments, already overburdened, cannot
afford to spend more money and effort on the greater quantities of wastes that
will inevitably be produced as consumption levels rise and urban wastes change.
Solid waste managers in developing countries tend to pay little attention to
the topic of reducing non-organic wastes because the wastes they collect are
between 50% to 90% organics, dirt and ashes. These municipal wastes, however,
are amenable to composting or digestion, provided they contain very low levels
of synthetic materials (see the Composting part of the Sound Practices section).
Solid waste departments thus have an interest in promoting diversion of
synthetic recyclables from the waste stream.
|Key concepts in municipal waste reduction
Waste reduction: all means of reducing the amounts of waste that
must be collected and disposed of by solid waste authorities. Ranges from
legislation and agreements at the national level for packaging and product
redesign to local programs to prevent recyclables and compostable organics
from entering final waste streams.
Source reduction: any procedure to reduce wastes at the point of
generation, in contrast to sorting out recyclable components after they
have been mixed together for collection.
Source separation: keeping different categories of recyclables and
organics separate at source, i.e., at the point of generation, to
facilitate reuse, recycling, and composting.
Waste recovery, materials recovery, or waste diversion: obtaining
materials/organics (by source separation or sorting out from mixed wastes)
that can be reused or recycled.
Reuse: reusing a product for the same or a different purpose.
Recycling: the process of transforming materials into secondary
resources for manufacturing new products.
Redemption center: waste trading enterprise that buys recyclable
materials and sells to brokers. Sometimes also called "buy-back
Producer responsibility: Producers of products or services accept a
degree of responsibility for the wastes that result from the
products/services they market, by reducing materials used in production,
making repairable/recyclable goods, and/or reducing packaging.
Promoting waste reduction and materials recovery at the national and local
Action for waste reduction can take place at both national and local levels.
At the national level, the main routes to waste reduction are:
- redesign of products or packaging;
- promotion of consumer awareness; and
- promotion of producer responsibility for post-consumer wastes (this
applies mostly to industrialized countries).
At the local level, the main means of reducing waste are:
- diversion of materials from the waste stream through source separation and
- recovery of materials from mixed waste;
- pressure on national or regional governments for legislation on
redesigning packaging or products; and
- support of composting, either centralized or small-scale.
|Itinerant buyers of boxboard are often employed by middlemen who
supply the vehicles. Large quantities of materials are thus diverted from
the waste stream and reprocessed or sold in shops.
(credit; Chris Furedy)
Sound policy approaches for improved recovery of materials are addressed here
within the social and technical realities of developing economies. The specific
technologies for recovering particular types of materials (e.g. glass, metals,
plastics) are not described. Further, although an understanding of how the
markets for recyclables affect waste reduction policies is important for
strategic planning there is little use in promoting recovery of materials for
which there are uncertain markets such an analysis is beyond the scope of this
Building on what is working
As explained below, people in many developing countries already carry out
significant waste reduction practices. In designing strategies for further waste
reduction, the first principle should be to build on what exists and appears to
be working. In general, sound practices for the majority of cities and towns in
the developing world rest upon:
- facilitating the existing private sector (formal and informal) in waste
re-duction where current practices are acceptable, and ameliorating problems
encountered by all the relevant actors through access to capacity-building,
financing, and education; and
- designing such assistance to dovetail with the strategic plan for MSWM.
This entails an understanding and assessment of local practices in waste
reduction, waste recovery, and recycling.