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Home  > Article

Waste Management for a Modern World

By Derek Both

Every industrialized nation has some method of waste management. It's crucial to our way of life. So how do these systems work?

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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