In simpler times, people were used to discarding household waste like domestic garbage or other items that could no longer serve their purpose by burying it in the ground. Back then, waste was produced on a much smaller scale since the population was smaller and people had simpler needs, so burying waste in the ground often sufficed.
Since then, tremendous increases in population and industrial development have drastically altered the situation, and such waste disposal methods are no longer feasible. Consequently, waste management has become a crucial task for everyone from small households, to entire countries.
Today, waste management and recycling is affected by many different factors and is a complicated issues. For instance, recently, global market changes affected industrial recycling programs to the point of having new discussions about where we can dispose of our waste.
What is Waste Management?
Modern waste management is about more than just finding a place to dispose waste, it’s become a streamlined and systematic process that incorporates the collection, transportation, and proper disposal of garbage, sewage, and other waste products. Present day waste management processes have also placed an emphasis on recycling waste by putting it back into productive use.
In a broader sense, the term ‘waste’ typically encapsulates municipal, organic, agricultural and recyclable or reusable waste, and is generally categorized as follows:
- Municipal Solid Waste: Municipal Solid Waste consists of household waste, along with any waste generated by schools, hospitals and businesses.
- Organic Waste: Organic waste consists of organic materials like food and vegetative matter. Organic waste also includes animal and plant-based products, along with any degradable carbon products commonly found in households such as cardboard, paper, and scrap timber.
- Agricultural Waste: Agricultural waste is waste generated by the agricultural industry and includes waste from crops and livestock.
- Recyclable/Reusable Waste: This consists of all waste products that can be converted into raw materials or can be reused.
Modern-day waste management methods or techniques include:
- Sanitary Landfills
- Incineration, Waste to Energy, or Transformation Technologies
The Importance of Proper Waste Management
Statistics show that every year over 230 million tons of waste are generated in the United States alone. Unfortunately, according to US EPA reports, just 34% of that waste is recycled or composted, with the remaining 66% being disposed of in landfills.
It’s no secret that reducing waste is a key factor in the preservation of our environment. If we are to increase the amount of waste recycled it’s imperative that more effort is put into the separation and classification of domestic and commercial waste, along with the development and implementation of more efficient waste collection, disposal, and sustainable recovery systems. Also, a strong push for businesses to attain zero waste certification has been pushed to the forefront.
Recycling is the process of converting used materials into new products or raw materials. Recycling reduces our reliance on virgin materials, which in itself leads to a reduction in energy consumption, air and water pollution.
Why is Recycling important?
During our day to day lives, anything we improperly dispose of is generally sent to a landfill for burying or incineration. Not only do landfills take up a lot of space, but because of the nature of modern-day products and the materials used to produce them, landfills tend to release toxic chemicals into the ground and nearby water sources, significantly damaging the surrounding environment.
Quite a bit of energy goes into the manufacturing and production of new products and when these get thrown away, destined to live out the remainder of their life in a landfill, we miss out on the valuable energy and resources that they could have potentially offered. Recycling is extremely important because it allows us to reclaim such energy and resources from used products.
People in the early 20th century made much better use of their waste products, especially during World War II (1939-1945); when many raw materials were in short supply. People were mindful of what they used, how they used it, and where they put it once they were done with it. This is in stark contrast to the ‘disposable society’ we’ve become today.
Nowadays, thanks to more disposable income and easier times, rather than reusing or repairing old products when they break down, we’re more inclined to simply buy new ones – and the ‘buy now, pay later’ lifestyle isn’t helping either. Ultimately, the high amounts of waste being generated, along with the wasted potential energy and resources, are only serving to worsen the situation for future generations.
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In the early 1970s, photocopy machine manufacturers themselves predicted that, in the near future, people would eventually stop using paper and we’d become a completely paperless society. While plenty of individuals and businesses alike have made a conscious effort to go paperless, the sad truth is that over four decades later we’re still using paper – and we’re using more than ever. The good news however is that we’re also recycling more.
Not all paper is the same. White office printer paper is expected to be of a higher quality than say, paper towels in washrooms. This means that lower-grade paper products can, and are actively being made out of recycled newspapers, scrap paper and cardboard.
Did you know that over half your kitchen and garden waste is compostable? Compost is a rich, crumbly, earthlike material made out of biodegraded organic materials, and plants love it! Nutrient-rich compost helps plants grow better, is cheaper and better for the environment than commercially available fertilizer. More importantly, practically anyone can make compost at home.
Metal is one of the most recyclable materials on the planet, and it’s all around us. Most of the domestic metal waste produced consists of tin or steel cans used as food packaging, aluminum cans for drinks, and steel aerosol spray cans – and all of it’s recyclable.
It takes a lot of energy to process virgin materials into refined metals; whereas tin, steel and aluminum cans alike can all be collected, broken down back into raw materials and reused. Through the simple act of recycling your metal cans, you’re doing your bit to conserve energy and save the planet.
Waste wood from things like old wooden floorings or garden decks can be shredded and packed to make materials such as fiberwood or even composite lumber, which is stronger and more resilient than regular wood. Certain types of wood can even be chipped and composted, or shaved and used as sawdust, which is biodegradable and has a wide range of uses.
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Glass is also another easily recyclable household product. At home, glass jars and bottles can be washed and reused countless times; while specialized plants can melt down, process and re-use old and broken glass.
Since plastic products can take as long as 1,000 years to naturally breakdown, plastics represent one of today’s biggest environmental issues. Plastic products are typically light and buoyant, making it easy for plastic waste to drift miles across oceans, scarring shorelines and killing wildlife in the process. Waste plastic is also inconvenient to store and dispose of unless properly compacted, as most disposable plastics like food containers, are fairly large.
Different kinds of plastics each have their own recycling rules and as a consequence, the main issue with plastics is that they’re relatively hard to recycle; which is why many environmental organizations and agencies recommend avoiding using plastics unless absolutely necessary, and recycling them whenever possible.
So How Can You Do Your Part?
Contributing to effective waste management is as easy as thinking about what you use, where it comes from, and where it goes. Try to reduce, reuse and recycle whenever possible.
You can do your bit to save the environment by simply being a more thoughtful and responsible consumer, rather than a reckless one.