Module 19: Waste

Regular Garbage and E-Waste

Waste management is the collection, transport, processing, recycling or disposal, and monitoring of waste products. Waste management is important for the health of humans, wildlife, and the environment. Waste management can also be valuable for recovering various resources. Efficient waste management involves a consideration about the amount of waste being disposed as well as the type of waste so that a customized waste management solution can be reached. Different solutions are reached for different areas. Waste management practices differ between developed and developing nations, urban and rural areas, and residential and industrial producers. (1)

Various methods of disposal include integrated waste management, plasma gastrification, landfill, and incineration. Recycling is also a key component of waste management. Recyclable products are separated and reused as opposed to incinerated. Plasma gastrification uses plasma, a highly ionized electrically-charged gas capable of high temperatures, to convert solid or liquid wastes into gas. This form of waste disposal offers a new opportunity for renewable power generation in an environmentally sustainable manner.(2) Landfill is a common practice of waste management in most countries, as it is relatively convenient and inexpensive. Landfill refers to disposal by burying the waste. Deposited waste is normally compacted. Some landfills use gas extraction to pump gas out for the use of electricity generation.(3) Incineration involves the combustion of waste material under high temperatures, converting materials into heat, gas, steam, and ash. It is particularly useful for the disposing of hazardous wastes (e.g. biomedical waste).

While most of these forms of waste management are convenient methods, they have a negative impact on the environment due to the emission of gaseous pollutants from degradation processes. There is also an accumulation rate that is greater than the waste turnover rate. Landfills are quickly reaching capacity, leaving streets littered with uncollected trash. Methane released from biodegradation contributes to global warming. Other toxic substances released from plastics contribute to problems such as acid rain and air pollution. Thus, greater importance needs to be placed on reducing waste material. There is also a greater need for innovative waste collection programs, with cities and localities taking initiative to modernize waste management plans.

Aside from traditional waste products, such as plastics, paper, food waste, etc., we now face another form of waste to manage: ‘e-waste’ or electronics waste, which is steadily growing with rapid technological advancement and its dissemination to the masses. Instead of being recycled or reused, many electronics are simply discarded. This is particuarly a growing problem within developing countries and this waste is left for people to scavenge. Electronic goods such as computers, printers, and mobile phones contain parts that expose workers to dangerous levels of lead, mercury, chromium, and other chemicals. These metals result in chronic breathing problems such as asthma and bronchitis. Many of these chemicals are also carcinogenic and have numerous known detrimental effects on the respiratory, urinary, and digestive systems. Legislation in developing countries to regulate e-waste has shown to be inadequate because of the number of undocumented workers who are part of the informal scavenging and recycling work sector. More efforts need to be taken by the local governments to manage e-waste production and to protect worker interests, especially vulnerable children. As our world becomes more technologically advanced, there is a greater need to become more conscious about the negative environmental impact that e-waste is having worldwide, and to begin to develop ideas about how we can reduce and reuse electronics and begin to safely deal with existing e-waste.(4)

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Footnotes

(1) “Wanless Enviro Services - What is Waste Management? (Wastecorp).” (2008). Accessed 14 July 2010.

(2) “Alliance Federated Energy- Pioneering A Renewable Future.” (2010). Accessed 14 July 2010.

(3) Zaman, A.U. “Life Cycle Environmental Assessment of Municipal Solid Waste to Energy Technologies.” Global Journl of Environmental Research. (2009). 2.2: 155-163. Accessed 14 July 2010.

(4) Roche, E. “India’s poor risk ‘slow death’ recycling ‘e-waste’.” (5 July 2010). AFP. Accessed 13 July 2010.