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Newsletter and Technical Publications
<Municipal Solid Waste Management>

Sound Practices
Waste reduction

2.1 Introduction

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., municipal) level.

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 center".
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 levels

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 trading;
  • 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 book.

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.

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