Waste management is the process by which humans control the creation of waste and its disposal. It involves the extraction, processing, transportation, storage, and disposal of solid waste, liquids, gases, and e-waste. Its goal is to minimize the adverse effects of waste on human health, the environment, and planetary resources. It also aims to reduce the costs associated with waste.
The most commonly used method of waste disposal is to bury it in landfills, a practice that requires significant amounts of land space and is prone to many environmental hazards. The waste buried in landfills may produce methane gas, which can be released into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. It may also be a source of odors and bacteria that can affect human health.
Another common method of waste management is to recycle it into new products, a process known as resource recovery. This approach is the third component of the long-recognized hierarchy of waste management, which ranks preventive prevention, minimization, reuse, recycling and thermal treatment as more preferred alternatives to landfill disposal. Recycling helps to reduce energy usage, halt the consumption of fresh raw materials, prevent air and water pollution, and conserve natural resources for future use.
A more environmentally friendly alternative to landfill disposal is biological treatment, which uses the naturally occurring decomposition of organic waste material to reduce the volume of solid waste. It is also an effective alternative to incineration, as it produces renewable energy through the production of methane and other biogases.
Other waste management methods include mechanical and biological treatment, incineration, and sewage sludge digestion. Some of these techniques require substantial investment in equipment and facilities, but they can have significant benefits for the environment, public health, and economic development. In addition, they can also help to reduce the need for landfill space, which is limited in most countries.
In developing countries, where waste disposal practices are not well-established, the vast majority of solid waste is thrown or dumped on the streets or in illegal dumps. Such wastes include industrial, household, hazardous, biomedical, and radioactive wastes. In order to mitigate the impact of such wastes, the most important step in waste management is to develop waste reduction and disposal systems.
To reduce the amount of solid waste, people can practice several techniques such as avoiding the use of disposable bags, repairing items instead of buying new ones, and using recycled materials in their daily lives. Businesses can also help by educating their employees about the impact of waste generation on the environment and encouraging them to recycle.
Incorporating waste reduction and prevention into emergency planning efforts can improve a community’s ability to respond to and recover from disasters. It can also reduce the costs of cleanup and restoration to pre-incident conditions, as well as enhance community resiliency. This is why it is crucial to incorporate these strategies in emergency plans and disaster mitigation plans. To learn more about this process, refer to the Pre-incident All-hazards Four Step Waste Management Planning Process.