Waste Management for a Modern World


By: Derek Both

Waste Management refers to the process of (i) collection of waste matter generated mainly by human consumption and activity, (ii) transport and shipment of the collected waste matter to a waste treatment facility and (iii) processing/recycling this waste material for further use or disposing it for good.

Waste Management is required for three reasons. One, you can’t be having waste lying around in any area as it will make the area look awful and the waste will raise a stink. Two, if waste is unattended to, it will attract pests and termites and the chances of a disease spreading will increase. Three, Man has realized that, if he allows waste to pile up or even burned, such an act would be disastrous for our environment. It is a mans duty to control waste and recycle it back into use by recovering resources from it.

History Of Waste Management

Once upon a time, when the density of population was low, the exploitation of the world’s natural resources was minimal and manageable. Plus, there was not much of industrialization and the wastes generated by humans were mostly biodegradable and thus their impact on the environment, minimal. This coupled with the fact that not much waste was generated, man did not feel the necessity to manage it.

Time flew, population grew and before humans knew it, the industrial revolution set in (18th Century). People from rural areas migrated to cities and industrial towns en masse. Human consumption began to get concentrated and waste began multiplying. The proliferation of waste led to many diseases such as bubonic plague, cholera and typhoid, which led to suffering and death.

From this event on, the industrialized nations realized the importance of waste management.

Recovering Resources From Waste

As the world population increases and waste grows in volume, the world’s scientists and planners have evolved technologies to recover resources from waste, which can be used again. For example, the developed nations have sophisticated facilities that convert the calorific content present in waste into electricity. In developing nations, manual laborers sift through the waste and extract recyclable material from it, thereby reducing the volume of waste that needs to be disposed.

Recycling Waste

The term recycling is universally associated with waste management. When we say recycle, we mean that our everyday waste will be collected, processed and then reused in another form. For example, products made out of paper, aluminum, plastic are collected and converted back into paper, aluminum and plastic respectively. Recycling of waste items made up of one material is an easy task.

Electronic waste is sent to developing nations where recycling plants extract gold and copper from the e-waste. Used automobiles are scrapped and their metal is sold to scrap lots, which then sell the metal back to factories for re-conversion. And so on.

Waste Management Techniques

Nations employ many techniques to deal with their waste. Here is a brief roundup of these techniques:

1. Landfill: This is the most traditional way of managing waste, by dumping it in a landfill. Countries such as Australia that have vast expanses of land, normally dispose their waste in abandoned quarries or mines. A landfill is an inexpensive way to get rid of waste. However, care should be taken to ensure that only waste that does not harm the environment is dumped in landfills. Populous countries or small countries, such as Japan, have to resort to other means to manage their waste.

2. Incineration: Incineration is the disposal of waste by burning it. However, incineration is not an effective tool for waste management as the burning of waste consumes resources and energy, destroys the recyclable material present in the waste and emits many harmful pollutants.

3. Composting: Composting is a technique in which organic waste materials (food, plants, paper) are decomposed and then recycled as compost for use in agriculture and landscaping applications.

4. Mechanical Biological treatment: In this technique, a variety of waste (plastic, paper, glass, etc.) are fed in bulk into the waste treatment plant. The MBT process extracts the recyclable content in the waste and converts it to calorific fuel that can be used by cement/power plants.

5. Pyrolysis and Gasification: These are thermal techniques, using these, waste is treated at high temperatures and at a very high pressure. In Pyrolysis, the waste material is converted to solid or liquid. The solid material can be further refined into a carbon form while the liquid extract can be used as energy-giving oil. In gasification, the waste material is converted into a synthetic gas, which can be burned to produce more energy.

In conclusion, waste management has become part of our survival strategy. If we have to live, we will produce waste. If we do not treat waste, it will choke us. Waste is a problem, waste Management is the solution.

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