Waste Management: Problems and solutions

Despite the fact that many plastic toys still contain the harmful chemical Biphenyl-A (BPA), these toys are poorly regulated. Moreover, officials only loosely enforce the regulations that are on the books.


Representational Image (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

India and other developing countries share a common problem in terms of urban solid waste management. The municipalities are unable to manage the increasing generation of waste due to rapid growth of population, change in lifestyles, urbanisation and industrialisation. Some of the common problem in solid waste management includes financial constraints, inadequate infrastructures, poor implementation of policies and undesirable behavior towards disposal of waste. The other problems associated to this are non-segregation of waste at source, open dumping and the major portion of which are diverted to landfills. This poses a threat to health and environment. Every business on the planet, no matter how small, has a responsibility to dispose of waste properly, as well as to participate with the global community in a search for answers. Irresponsible handling and disposal of wastes have huge environmental effects that led to ever more serious problems. Production of too much waste is the beginning of the whole waste disposal and waste management puzzle. For example, America alone is responsible for generating 220 million tons of waste per year. According to a report from the World Bank, the average global municipal solid waste (MSW) generation per person daily is about 1.2 kg. Moreover, experts expect this figure to rise to about 1.5kg by 2025. We live in a culture of throw away consumerism. Additionally, producers try to maximize their profit by producing one-use products. There seems to be too little commitment or incentive overall to producing environmentally friendly products or encouraging reuse and recycling. Many products from major manufacturers, as well as the packages we purchase them in, contain hazardous and health threatening compounds. To make matter worse, many of us simply throw these products and their packaging away when we’re through using them. Union, state and local authorities, generally speaking, often appear reluctant to rein in waste disposal miscreants.

Solid waste management is the collection, treatment and disposing of solid material that is discarded because it has served its purpose or is no longer useful. Improper disposal of municipal Solid Waste (MSW) can create unsanitary conditions and these conditions in turn can lead to pollution of the environment and outbreaks of vector-borne diseases- that is, diseases spread by rodents and insects. The task of solid –waste management present complex technical challenges. They also pose a wide variety of administrative, economic and social problems that must be managed and solved. The sources of solid waste include residential, commercial, institutional and industrial activities. Certain types of wastes that cause immediate danger to exposed individuals or environment are classified as hazardous. All non-hazardous solid waste from a community that requires collection and transport to processing or disposal site is called refuse or Municipal Solid Waste. Refuse includes garbage and rubbish. Garbage is mostly decomposable food waste; rubbish is mostly dry material such as glass, paper, cloth or wood. Garbage is highly putrescible or decomposable whereas rubbish is not. Trash is rubbish that includes bulky items such as old refrigerators, conches or long tree stumps. Trash requires special collection and handling. Construction and demolition (C & D) waste or debris is a significant component of total solid waste quantities; although it is not considered to be part of the MSW stream. However because C& D waste is inert and non-hazardous, it is usually disposed of in municipal sanitary landfills.

Despite the fact that many plastic toys still contain the harmful chemical Biphenyl-A (BPA), these toys are poorly regulated. Moreover, officials only loosely enforce the regulations that are on the books. One category of solid waste that is rapidly expanding is that of plastic packaging. In fact this category accounts for more than 30 per cent of our planet’s waste disposal volume. Moreover, almost 40 per cent of non-biodegradable plastic waste comes from packaging. Overall this one category exacerbates waste disposal challenges at a staggering rate. Another type of solid waste, perhaps the fastest growing component in many developed countries iselectronics waste or e-waste, which includes discarded computer equipment, televisions, telephones and varieties of other electronic devices. Concern over this type of waste is escalating. Lead, Mercury and cadmium are among the materials of concern in electronic devices and governmental policies may be required to regulate their recycling and disposal. Solid waste characteristic vary considerably among communities and nations also rates of solid –waste generation vary widely. Waste disposal involves various processes, including collection, transportation, dumping, recycling and treatment of different kinds of wastes. Sometimes some wastes are buried and that are buried underground do not rot. Moreover not all waste burn. Often decomposing waste generates smells that people find distressing. At the same time long term effects such as leaching, underground water pollution and the release of potentially unsafe gases like methane, continue to plague modern day landfills. And some of these gases are explosive or toxic, not to mention their contribution to the planet’s greenhouse effect.

Most communities require household refuse to be stored in durable, easily cleaned containers with tight-fitting covers in order to minimize rodents or insects’ infestation and offensive odors’. Proper solid waste collection is important for the protection of public health safety and environmental quality. Once collected, municipal solid waste may be treated in order to reduce the total volume and weight of material that require final disposal. Treatment changes the form of the waste and makes it easier to handle. Solid waste treatment and disposal can be carried out by incineration, composting, sanitary landfills, reuse, recycling etc. In the end responsible waste management lies with each one of us. We must do what we can to shop for products that come with minimal packaging. We must also reuse, recycle and reduce our household and business waste as much as possible. Moreover, we must work alongside environmental advocates to change and enforce regulations that provide for responsible waste management. The effective management of MSW is determined by joint action of appropriate technology and policy coupled with stringent implementation and desirable behavior of the society. It is also determined by the responsive functioning of the duties assigned to different stakeholders in public –private partnership of a region.

(The views expressed are the writer's own. The writer can be reached  at sjugeshwor7@gmail.com)

First Published:Feb. 1, 2021, 12:28 p.m.

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