Waste management involves prevention, reuse, collection, seggregation, processing or handling of waste in a way that causes minimum harm to the environment.
Common waste disposal methods include landfilling, incineration, recycling and biological processing - though there are newly adopted practices like energy and resource recovery.
Landfills are places where waste is deposited or buried. For a landfill to be properly managed, it should have a lining of clay/plastic to contain liquid leachate. Landfill leachate is the liquid draining from landfill waste - which is potentially toxic and can contaminate ground water, lake, streams and rivers unless controlled. A landfill should ideally be covered to prevent getting carried away by rainfall, wind and vermins. In more advanced systems, the deposited waste is compacted and gases emitted are extracted to generate electricity.
Incineration is simply burning the waste. Although a very practical way of getting rid of waste - especially in areas where land for landfill may not be available - it has raised concerns over the gaseous pollutants released in the process which may harm the environment.
Biological processing may be practised where the waste material is organic in nature - like plant parts, food scraps or paper. Here, the organic matter is systematically decomposed to create mulch or compost that can be used in agriculture or gardening.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
These R's are the three primary components of waste management hierarchy. By reducing needless consumption the very generation of waste is reduced. Items made of durable materials can be reused, or at least given to charity for use. Items that can be recycled should be seggregated from every other kind of waste. Finally, any item that cannot be reused or recycled has to be discarded, but waste disposal should be done with care.
Ways to reduce
A lot of waste paper in the form of packages can be reduced if we buy products with minimal packaging and, where possible, buy food items in bulk as buying frequently in small quantities increases the amount of packages we bring home. We will be dealing with lot less paper if we read newspaper online, read magazines at the library instead of buying, use emails / sms for all correspondence, pay bills online and conduct banking transactions online.
Ways to reuse
Before disposing of waste items, it will be worthwhile to look for reuse centres in the community - i.e. organizations who collect items rejected by people for others who may resuse them. Where possible, consumers should try repairing broken items or procure second-hand products instead of buying new ones. Another way to reuse is to substitute disposable items with reusable ones. Use cotton napkins in place of disposable paper napkins. For all the cleaning and wiping work use rags, towels and sponges in stead of disposable cleaning materials. Use reusable shopping bags to avoid taking paper or plastic packages from shopkeepers. Glass jars and plastic storage containers - obtained when buying beverages, cookies or other food items - can be reused to store spices, snacks, grains or cereals. Using rechargeable batteries in stead of single-use ones proves to be a more economical an eco-friendly option in the long run.
Recycling is a practice where the material of the collected waste product is processed to recreate the product and make it fit for reuse. Upcycling is somewhat different from recycling in that it creates a totally new product of good quality from the materials extracted from the waste product. Downcycling is conversion of waste materials to products of inferior quality and lesser functionality. Recyclable products include newspapers, magazines, aluminium-based beverage cans, copper wire, food cans / furnishings / tools of steel, PET bottles, glass jars, paperboard cartons, corrugated fibreboard boxes and PVC pipes.
The raw material that is taken in and processed in a waste recycling plant is called recyclate. Such recyclates may be collected from the consumers through buy-back centres, drop-off centres, and curbside collection processes. While buy-back centres purchase recyclates, drop-off centres expect consumers to carry the recyclates to specified stations. Curbside collection is a service provided by local authorities to collect household waste - which is generally done using waste collection vehicles. The collected waste may be mixed or sorted - the latter being the case when consumers separate the recyclables from every other kind of waste. The waste is carried to central collection facilities where advanced and automated sorting technologies may be employed to separate different kinds of materials.
Governments can play an important role in household waste management. They may conduct public awareness programmes to encourage people to sort their bio-degradable, recyclable and hazardous waste into separate packages before disposal.
Waste-to-Energy and Resource recovery
Waste-to-Energy is a process by which non-recyclable waste materials can be converted to usable fuel, heat or electricity. The methods used can range from simple ways like combustion and anaerobic digestion to more advanced techniques like landfill gas recovery, gasification and pyrolyzation. Waste-to-Energy process is considered beneficial for the environment as it helps reduce methane emission from landfills and creates a renewable energy source - thereby reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuel sources.
Resource recovery is the extraction of materials, resources or energy through the processing of recyclates. It helps in conservation of natural resources and reduction of waste for disposal.
e waste management
Electronic waste or e-waste means discarded electrical or electronic devices that happens to be a rapidly growing waste stream in developed and developing nations. Factors like fast technology change, change in media type and fall in prices are leading to an alarming increase in e waste generation. Moreover, the life span of certain devices (computers, mobiles) have fallen drastically - adding further to the e waste stream. Hazardous substances contained in e waste include lead (CRT monitor glass, lead-acid batteries), mercury (fluorescent lights, thermostats), flat screen monitors), cadnium (Nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries), beryllium oxide (filler in CPUs), sulphur (lead-acid batteries), perfluorooctanoic acid (non-stick cookware) and flame retardants in plastics. Leakage, unsafe exposure and open burning poses health risks and adverse impacts on environment.
Dealing with Household hazardous waste
Household waste products containing potentially harmful ingredients - that may be toxic, corrosive, inflammable or reactive - are considered to hazardous waste. Such waste should be disposed of with care as improper disposal can pollute the environment and endanger human health.
Examples include batteries, mercury thermostats/thermometers, oil/enamel based paints, paint strippers and removers, plant insecticides, flea repellents, shampoos, fuels, toilet cleaners. certain automotive products and even eco-friendly lights like CFLs and LEDs.
Potential hazardous products should be stored and used with caution to avoid accidents. If instructions are provided on product labels - for use, storage and disposal - they should be strictly followed.