Management of Construction Wastes

constuction-wastesA wide variety of wastes are generated during construction projects which may be classified into four categories – excavated wastes, demolition wastes, construction wastes and mixed wastes. Construction wastes are also known Construction and Demolition (C&D) wastes. Excavated materials is made up of soil, sand, gravel, rock, asphalt, etc. while demolition wastes is comprised by  concrete, metal, roofing sheets, asbestos, brick, briquette, stone gypsum, wood material. Waste materials generated from construction activities are concrete, dry wall, plastics, ceramics tiles, metals, paper, cardboards, plastics, glass etc. In addition, mixed wastes, such as trash and organic wastes, are also produced in construction projects.

Almost 90 percent of construction wastes are inert or non-hazardous, and can be reused, reclaimed and recycled and reused. The non-recyclable, non-hazardous and hazardous waste materials constitute the remaining 10 percent. The non-inert materials include trees, green vegetation, trash and other organic materials while and the hazardous construction waste materials include contaminated soil, left over paints, solvent, aerosol cans, asbestos, paint thinners, striping paint, contaminated empty containers.

Sustainable management of construction wastes uses number of strategies and is based on the typical waste hierarchy: Avoid/ eliminate, reduce, reuse, recycle, treat and dispose.

Avoidance / Source Reduction

Avoidance or source reduction is considered as the best strategy for waste management and is the most economic way to reduce waste and minimise the environmental impacts of construction wastes. This can be done by avoiding use of hazardous materials such as asbestos-containing materials or chromated copper arsenate treated timber or through green purchasing of materials. This includes purchasing of non-toxic materials, pre-cut timbers and ordering materials of desired dimensions.

Reuse

Although source reduction and elimination are preferred options in the waste management hierarchy, it is always not possible to do so. In this case consider reuse, donation and salvage options to companies or people who need those. Reuse option lengthens the life of a material. Reuse strategy can be used in two ways.

Building Reuse – It includes reusing materials from existing buildings and maintaining certain percentages of building structural and non-structural elements  such as interior walls, doors floor covering and ceilings.

Material Reuse – This is one of the most effective strategies for minimising environmental impacts which can be done by salvaging, refurbishing and reusing materials within the same building or in another building. Many of the exterior and interior materials can be recovered from existing buildings and reused in new ones. Such materials will include steel, walls, floor coverings, concrete, beams and posts, door frames, cabinetry and furniture, brick, and decorative items. Reuse of materials and products will help to reduce the demand for virgin materials and reduce wastes.

Recycle

There is very good potential to recycle many elements of construction waste. Recycling involves collecting, reprocessing and/ or recovering certain waste materials to make new materials or products. Often roll-off containers are used to transport the waste. Rubble can be crushed and reused in construction projects. Waste wood can also be recovered and recycled. Many construction waste materials that are still usable can be donated to non-profit organizations. This keeps the material out of the landfill and supports a good cause.

Treat and Dispose

This option should be considered after all other options are exhausted. The disposal of construction materials should be carried out in appropriate manner through an approved contractor. For examples, certain components of construction waste such as plasterboard are hazardous once landfilled. Plasterboard is broken down in landfill conditions releasing hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas.

Plastic Wastes and its Management

Plastic seems all pervasive and unavoidable. Since the 1960s our use of plastic has increased dramatically, and subsequently, the portion of our garbage that is made up of plastic has also increased from 1% of the total municipal solid waste stream (household garbage) to approximately 13% (US Environmental Protection Agency). Plastic products range from things like containers and packaging (soft drink bottles, lids, shampoo bottles) to durable goods (think appliances, furniture and cars) and non-durable goods including things from a plastic party tray to medical devices. Sometimes marked with a number and a chasing arrow, there is an illusion that all plastics are recyclable, and therefore recycled. But there are a number of problems with this assumption.

While use and consumption of plastic is increasingly high, doubts about viable options for reuse, recycling and disposal are also on the rise. Complications such as the increasing number of additives used alter the strength, texture, flexibility, colour, resistance to microbes, and other characteristics of plastics, make plastics less recyclable. Additionally, there is very little market value in some plastics, leading municipalities to landfill or incinerate plastics as waste. Based on figures from the EPA (2011 data) only 8% of plastic materials are recovered through recycling.

Another major concern about plastics in the waste stream is their longevity and whether or not they are truly biodegrade. It is estimated that most plastics would take 500-1000 years to break down into organic components. Because of this longevity and the low rate of recycling, much of our plastic waste ends up in landfills or as litter. Some of this plastic waste makes its way via rivers and wind to the ocean. Garbage barges, and the trans-continental transport of recyclable materials also lead to an increasing amount of plastics in our oceans and waterways.

Plastic waste directly and indirectly affects living organisms throughout the ecosystem, including an increasingly high impact on marine life at a macro and micro scale. According to United Nations, almost 80% of marine debris is plastic. Policy enforcement remains weak, global manufacture of plastics continues to increase, and the quantity of plastic debris in the oceans, as well as on land, is likely to increase.

With limited sustainable recovery of plastics, there is a growing global movement to reduce the generation of plastic. Certain types of plastic may be ’safer‘ for the environment than others, however, there are troubling issues associated with all of them, leading to the conclusion that action is needed to remove plastic waste, and stricter controls are required to limit new sources of plastic pollution. Efforts such as light weighting of packaging and shifts to compostable plastics are options. Policies limiting the use of plastics such as bottle bills and bag bans are other ways to decrease the production and consumption of plastics.

Mining the debris fields in our oceans and turning plastic waste into usable materials, from socks made of fishing line to fuel made from a variety of plastic debris, is one way to mitigate the current situation.

Note: This excerpt is being published with the permission of our collaborative partner Be Waste Wise. The original excerpt and its video recording can be found at this link

Challenges in Hazardous Medical Waste Management

medical-waste-managementMedical waste management is a concern of healthcare facilities all over the world; about 10-20% of the facility’s budget every year is spent on waste disposal. According to the WHO, about 85% of the total amount of generated waste is non hazardous but the remaining 15% is considered infectious, toxic or radioactive. While non-hazardous medical waste poses less problems, the risks and challenges of hazardous medical waste management must be considered carefully, since incineration or open burning of hazardous medical waste can result in emissions of dangerous pollutants such as dioxins and furans.

For this reason, measures must be taken to ensure safe disposal of hazardous medical waste waste in order to prevent negative impact on the environment or biological hazards, especially in developing countries.

Health Risks

Biologically hazardous waste can be a source of infection due to the harmful microorganisms it contains; the most exposed are hospital patients, hospital staff, health workers. However, the situation is potentially harmful for the general public as well. The risks include chemical burns, air pollution, radiation burns and toxic exposure to harmful pharmaceutical products and substances, such as mercury or dioxins, especially during the process of waste incineration.

Other risks can also derive from the incorrect disposal of needles and syringes; worldwide, it is estimated that, every year, about 16 billion infections are administered. Unfortunately, not all needles are safely eliminated, creating risk of infection but also the possibility of unintentional reuse. Even though this risk has decreased in recent years, unsafe infections are still responsible for many new cases of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Environmental Impacts

Incorrect disposal of untreated healthcare waste can contaminate drinking and ground water in landfill, and also release dangerous chemical substances in the environment. Deficient waste incineration can also release hazardous pollutants in the air, and generate dioxins and furans, substances which have been linked to cancer and other adverse health conditions. Heavy metals, if incinerated, can lead to the diffusion of toxic metals in the environment.

The Way Forward

There is still a long way to go in order to ensure safe disposal of hazardous healthcare waste. A joint WHO/UNICEF assessment conducted in 2015 found that only 58% of analyzed facilities over 24 countries had appropriate medical waste disposal systems in place.

Strategies to improve healthcare waste segregation is an essential step in medical waste management

In the workplace, it is important to raise awareness and promote self-practices. Training in the areas of infection control and clinical waste management is important in order to maintain a clean, safe environment for patients and staff alike. Specialized industrial cleaning can also be effective in reducing risk of infection.

It is also essential to develop safe methods and technologies of treating hazardous medical waste, as opposed to waste incineration, which has already been shown to be ineffective and dangerous. Alternatives to incineration, such as microwaving or autoclaving, greatly reduce the release of hazardous emissions.

Finally, developing global strategies and systems to improve healthcare waste segregation is another essential step; since only about 15% of clinical waste is hazardous, treatment and disposal costs could be reduced significantly with proper segregation practices. Furthermore, these practices also reduce risks of infections for those workers who handle clinical waste.

Pet Waste Management in UK – Prospects and Challenges

pet-wastesPet waste is a growing public health and environmental risk. According to a report commissioned by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, 13 million UK households (45%) keep pets of some kind.  Cats and dogs are each kept by 8.5 million households (these numbers are not additive, as some will of course keep both).

Can those of us who want both the joys of animal companionship and waste minimisation, find ways to cut down, or better manage, the huge amount of pet waste generated in the UK every year? With so many cats and dogs in the UK, pet waste must represent a significant mass of organic matter within the residual waste stream.

Does this waste represent a floater in the residual waste stream by necessity—due to inherently unpleasant and possibly dangerous characteristics of the waste—or is it only there out of convention and squeamishness?

I’ve written before about the relationship between waste management and squeamishness, and talking about faeces really brings the point home. There are some undoubtedly nasty pathogens present in pet faeces, notably the parasites Toxocariasis and Toxoplasmosis. But might these be safely killed off by the temperatures reached in anaerobic digestion (AD)? If so, provided any litter and bags were made of organic matter, might pet waste be collected along with food waste?

I began by contacting a local authority waste officer, but was told that no one had asked this question before, and that I might be better off talking to AD plant operators. This I did, but most seemed similarly baffled by my query.  However, one mentioned that AD digestate goes through a pasteurisation process, where it is heated to a temperature of 70oC for one hour, in order to make it safe for land application. I also attempted to contact some technical specialists in the field, but to no avail.

There are some theoretical indications that this pasteurisation should be sufficient. Hanna Mizgajska-Wiktor and Shoji Uga’s  essay Exposure and Environmental Contamination states: “Anaerobic waste treatment kills Toxocara spp. eggs at temperatures in excess of 45oC”, well below the 70oC mentioned by my operator. The susceptibility of Toxoplasma to heat is less clear, although numerous internet sources suggest this can be killed in meat by cooking at 66oC. So far, then, I haven’t confirmed or falsified my initial inkling, and so the collection of pet waste in the municipal organic stream remains a theoretical possibility.

Motivated dog owners  can already turn their pet’s waste into a resource within their own home. The website London Worms explains how you can turn your dog’s poo into rich and useful vermicompost, although it warns that the results will only be suitable for use on non-edible plants.

Foul Pay

Household pet droppings may still be largely fated for disposal, but even when binned this waste is at least moving through proper waste management channels.  Unfortunately, not all pet poo is binned, and we have real data measuring public perceptions of the disamenity resulting from dog fouling. For most, the presence of this unwelcome waste in our streets, parks and footpaths is of much higher concern than its diversion from landfill.

A 2011 Defra-funded study on local residents’ willingness-to-pay — via an increase in council tax — for improvements across a range of environmental factors found that dog fouling was the third most important issue out of the presented range (with litter and fly-tipping taking first and second place). Surveys were conducted in inner-city, suburban and rural/semi-rural areas around London, Manchester and Coventry.

In order to move from the current level of dog fouling to the best possible scenario, it was found that inner-city residents would on average be willing to pay £8.87 per month, suburban residents £7.79 per month, and rural residents £2.72. Combining these figures with population statistics allows us to place a disamenity value on dog fouling. National statistics only allow for an urban-rural split, but based on a 2012 Defra rurality study which found that 18.9% of the population lives in rural areas, we can calculate that across England we would collectively be willing to pay £462m per year to achieve best case scenario improvements in dog fouling.

This somewhat crude calculation gives an indication of the perceived disamenity of dog fouling. Presenting the matter in terms such as these may allow economically minded policy makers a means of engaging with this important street scene issue and evaluating the costs and benefits of interventions.

Food for Thought

Let’s wash our hands of poo (with plenty of soap and warm water) and look to the other end of the pet waste problem. According to a report published by WRAP, the UK uses around 75,000 tonnes of primary packaging annually. This holds 1,263,000 tonnes of wet and dry cat and dog food, of which 9,000 uneaten tonnes are thrown away. Although this wasted food constitutes less than 1% of the total sold (if only we were as careful with food for human consumption) the estimated cost to the consumer is still £21m a year.

WRAP examined a number of designs intended to cut to down on the amounts of both pet food and packaging thrown away. A major problem with packaging design is the need to account for portion sizes, which vary from animal to animal and change depending on age and level of activity. Single serve packaging may actually lead to regular food wastage if the portion provided is too big for a particular pet; indeed, this is a problem I am experiencing with my own cat, whose appetite seems to fluctuate wildly. Re-sealable packaging that allows owners to dish out meals in accordance with the changing appetites of their pets is therefore preferable.

The material that packaging is made of is also significant: for example, relatively heavy tins are recyclable, whereas lightweight plasticised plastic foil packets are not. Pet food and its packaging can be pushed up the waste hierarchy by simply choosing a recyclable and resealable container which will allow them to adequately provide for the appetite of their pet. However, these issues are likely to be given less weight compared with health, convenience and cost in the minds of most householders. The onus has to be on manufacturers to develop packaging which is both low cost and easily recyclable.

Love pets, hate waste?

People love animals, but are rather less keen to engage with pets as an environmental issue. Leaving aside questions of whether it is sustainable for so many of us to have pets at all, there are clearly ways in which we can reduce their impact. The convenience of single serving pouches of pet food seems to win out over more recyclable and waste-avoiding alternatives, although pet owners might be willing to change their choices if presented with a better option.

While worrying about recovery options for cat poo might seem somewhat academic, it may be easier to tackle than dog fouling. It might even help to tackle the common psycho-social root of both issues. Cultural distaste perhaps lies behind the lack of information available on dealing with household pet waste, and the persistence of dog fouling as a street scene issue. Things were very different in Victorian London when “pure finders” earned a living by seeking out doggie doo to supply the tanning trade. But for us this kind of waste is a disagreeable fact of life which we deal with as simply and with as little thought as possible. But as a nation of animal lovers, it’s our responsibility to engage with the waste management issues our pets present.

Note: The article is being republished with the kind permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be viewed at this link

Waste Management Progress in Nigeria’s Delta State

waste-nigeriaWaste management is a serious problem in Nigeria, and Delta State is no exception. It is a problem that starts at a cultural level: many of the populace believe that once they remove waste from their homes it is no longer their concern. It is a problem that starts at a cultural level: many of the populace believe that once they remove waste from their homes it is no longer their concern, and you often see people disposing of their household waste in the streets at night. Once the waste gets out into the streets, it’s perceived as the duty of the government to handle it.

However, I have never yet heard of any Nigerian politician making waste management a feature of his or her manifesto during the election campaign process. Having said that, a few of Nigeria’s political leaders deserve to be commended for coming to terms with the fact that waste has to be managed properly, even if such issues were far from their minds when they entered political office.

Legislation and Framework

Nigeria does have a waste legislation framework in place. Its focus has been on the most toxic and hazardous waste: partly in response to some major pollution incidents in the 1980s, the government took powers in relation to Hazardous Waste in 1988. In the same year, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency was established – and was subsequently strengthened by the addition of an inspectorate and enforcement department arm in 1991, with divisions for standard regulation, chemical tracking and compliance monitoring. These laws have since given rise to regulations and guidelines pertaining to environmental and waste management issues.

Under our laws, waste management in each state is the duty of the local governments that fall within it, but few are taking an active approach to implementing and enforcing the sensible measures that the regulations require. A small number of states have taken over this task from local government, and Delta State’s decision to do this has led to significant new investment in waste management.

One of the fruits of that investment is the Delta State Integrated Waste Management Facility at Asaba for treating both household and clinical waste generated locally. It was developed when the Delta State government decided to put an end to the non-sustainable dumping of waste in Asaba, the state capital.

Integrated Waste Management Facility at Asaba

It is described as an integrated waste management facility because it includes a composting department, a recycling department and a (non-WTE) incineration department. Trucks carrying waste are weighed in as they come into the facility. From the weigh bridge, they move to the relevant reception bay – there are separate ones for household and clinical wastes – to tip their load, and are then weighed again on the way out.

Medical waste is taken directly for incineration, but household wastes are sent along conveyors for sorting. Recyclables and compostable materials are, so far as possible, separated both from other waste and from one another. Each recyclable stream ends up in a chamber where it can be prepared for sale. The compostable materials are moved to the composting section, which uses aerated static pile composting.

The remaining waste is conveyed into the three incinerators – moving grate, rotary kiln and fixed end– for combustion. The resulting ash is recycled by mixing it with cement and sharp sand and moulding it into interlocking tiles. The stacks of the three incinerators are fitted with smoke cleaning systems to reduce emissions. The process produces wastewater, which is channelled to a pit where it is treated and reused. Overall, 30% of the waste is composted, 15% recycled and 55% incinerated.

There are many examples of sophisticated waste infrastructure being built in developing countries, but failing because the necessary collection systems were not in place to support them. To ensure that this problem is avoided at Asaba, the Delta State government is working with a group known as the Private Sector Participants (PSP).

Each member of this group has trucks assigned to them and has been directed to collect household waste from different parts of the city, for delivery to the facility for treatment. The arrangements made by each PSP are different: some collect from outside individual properties, and some from communal sites; most collect waste that is found in the streets; and while each is subsidised by the state, households also have to pay towards the cost.

Before the Asaba facility was developed, most of the wastes generated in Asaba were disposed of at a dumpsite just adjacent to the Delta State Airport. This created a pungent odour, as well as visual disamenity for people nearby. A great deal of remediation work is now taking place at the dumpsite, which is vastly improving the local environmental quality.

War on Waste

Of course, although this is an improvement there remains more to do. First on the list is education. People do not know how sustainable waste management can impact positively in their lives, reducing their exposure to toxins as well as improving their surroundings. Nor do they understand that recycling a beverage can or a plastic bottle will cost less than producing one from virgin materials and will have a lesser environmental impact. There remains a good deal of cultural change and environmental education that is needed before people will stop throwing waste and litter on the streets – but there are few countries where, to some extent, the same would not be true.

Next is the lack of infrastructure. Nigeria has 36 states and a federal capital, yet the facility in Asaba is the first publicly commissioned one of its kind in the country; there are also some privately owned incinerators that a few companies in Port Harcourt use to treat wastes from vessels (ships), hospitals and industries. Lagos state and Abuja are relatively advanced, simply by virtue of having put in place a few managed landfills, but they are still far from having the level of facility that Asaba can now boast.

The backbone of Asaba’s progress is the state government’s commitment to put a proper waste management solution in place. We’ve seen the impact in the form of infrastructure, collections and remediation, and law enforcement work is starting to change people’s perception about waste management in Delta State. At the moment, plans are being concluded to setup another facility in Warri, Delta State’s industrial hub, which will be twice the size of the Asaba facility.?

My hope is that the progress made by Delta State will be a beacon for other states’ governments. The example we are providing of cleaner, hygienic, more environmentally responsible waste management, and the positive changes that is bringing about, should inspire new development elsewhere in the country, which could equal or even exceed Delta State’s results. So whilst Nigeria’s track record on waste may leave a lot to be desired, the path ahead could be a great deal more promising.

Note: The article is being republished with the kind permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be found at this link.

Sustainable Solid Waste Management: Need of the Hour

The primary aim of sustainable solid waste management is to address concerns related to public health, environmental pollution, land use, resource management and socio-economic impacts associated with improper disposal of waste. “This growing mountain of garbage and trash represents not only an attitude of indifference toward valuable natural resources, but also a serious economic and public health problem”. These words from the former US President Jimmy Carter is enough to understand the social, economical and environmental impact of mismanaged waste disposal and an urgent call for help to look for innovative, smart, sustainable and effective waste disposal techniques.

According to UNEP, around 3 billion tons of waste is generated every year, with industrial waste being the largest contributor, especially from China, EU and USA. There has been a steady increase in the quantity of e-wastes and hazardous waste materials. The UNEP study observed a drastic shift from high organic to higher plastic and paper corresponding to increase in the standards of living and also made an interesting correlation between the higher GDP and the quantity of municipal waste collections.

In developing and under-developed countries, the use of open dumps to dispose of the solid waste from different sectors is staggeringly high compared to the developed and high income countries that are more dependent on recycling and use of sanitary landfills that are isolated from the surrounding environment until it is safe.

There are serious concerns on the increasing cost of waste disposal, especially in developing countries. It is estimated that around $200 billion are being spent on waste management in the OECD countries for both municipal and industrial waste.

For developing countries, at least 20-50% of its annual budget is devoted to waste management schemes and strategy that has been reported insufficient and inefficient at the same time. In these countries, use of unscientific and at times unethical and outdated waste management practices have led to various environmental repercussions and economic backlashes. Even the relatively small proportion of waste recycling and other waste minimization and re-use techniques for waste disposal is alarming.

The increasing cost of waste disposal is a cause of major concern in developing nations

As sustainable solid waste management evolves through waste awareness among general public, efforts within the industry, and waste management becoming not just an environmental concern but a political and strategic apprehension too, there are realistic chances of advancements and scientific innovations.

Innovation will then give birth to revolutionary and self-sustaining ideas within the industry, which earlier focused on basic waste management, will now grow towards maximum utilization and sustainable management of waste.

In the last couple of decades, sustainable solid waste management has become a matter of political significance with robust policies, strategies and agendas devised to address the issue. The good thing is that the industry has responded with innovative, cost-effective and customized solutions to manage solid wastes in an environmental-friendly manner.

Addressing India’s Waste Management Problems

Out of all the measures that are necessary in addressing India’s impending waste management crisis, the most efficient will be changes at the national policy and planning level. It is well-known among the small but growing waste management sector that urban India will hit rock bottom due to improper waste management.

Unfortunately, they think such a crisis is required to bring about policy changes, as they generally tend to happen only after the damage has been done. This attitude is unfortunate because it indicates a lack of or failed effort from the sector to change policy, and also the level of India’s planning and preparedness.

An average of 32,000 people will be added to urban India every day, continuously, until 2021. This number is a warning, considering how India’s waste management infrastructure went berserk trying to deal with just 25,000 new urban Indians during the last decade. The scale of urbanization in India and around the world is unprecedented with planetary consequences to Earth’s limited material and energy resources, and its natural balance.

Rate of increase in access to sanitation infrastructure generally lags behind the rate of urbanization by 33% around the world; however, the lack of planning and impromptu piecemeal responses to waste management issues observed in India might indicate a much wider gap. This means urban Indians will have to wait longer than an average urban citizen of our world for access to proper waste management infrastructure.

The clear trend in the outbreak of epidemic and public protests around India is that they are happening in the biggest cities in their respective regions. Kolkata, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, and Srinagar are capitals of their respective states, and Coimbatore is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu. However, long term national level plans to improve waste management in India do not exist and guidance offered to urban local bodies is meager.

Apart from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), there has been no national level effort required to address the problem. Even though JnNURM was phenomenal in stimulating the industry and local governments, it was not enough to address the scale and extent of the problem. This is because of JnNURM is not a long term waste management financing program, sorts of which are required to tackle issues like solid waste management.

Are Cities Hands-tied or is Change Possible?

In the short term, municipal corporations have their hands tied and will not be able to deliver solutions immediately. They face the task of realizing waste management facilities inside or near cities while none of their citizens want them near their residences. Officials of Hyderabad’s municipal corporation have been conducting interviews with locals for about eight years now for a new landfill site, to no avail.

In spite of the mounting pressure, most corporations will not be able to close the dumpsites that they are currently using. This might not be the good news for which local residents could be waiting, but, it is important that bureaucrats, municipal officials and politicians be clear about it. Residents near Vellalore dump protested and blocked roads leading to the site because Coimbatore municipal officials repeatedly failed to fulfill their promises after every landfill fire incident.

Due to lack of existing alternatives, other than diverting waste fractionally by increasing informal recycling sector’s role, closing existing landfills would mean finding new sites.  Finding new landfills in and around cities is nearly impossible because of the track record of dumpsite operations and maintenance in India and the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) phenomenon.

However, the corporations can and should take measures to reduce landfill fires and open burning, and control pollution due to leachate and odor and vector nuisance. This will provide much needed relief to adjacent communities and give the corporations time to plan better. While navigating through an issue as sensitive this, it is of the utmost importance that they work closely with the community by increasing clarity and transparency.

Municipal officials at the meeting repeatedly stressed the issue of scarcity of land for waste disposal, which led to overflowing dumpsites and waste treatment facilities receiving more waste than what they were designed for. Most municipal officials are of the sense that a magic solution is right around the corner which will turn all of their city’s waste into electricity or fuel oil or gas, or into recycled products. While such conversion is technologically possible with infinite energy and financial sources, that is not the reality.

Despite their inability to properly manage wastes, the majority of municipal officials consider waste as “wealth” when approached by private partners. Therefore, a significant portion of officials expect royalty from private investments without sharing business risk.

Note: Acknowledgements will be published in the full report “Observations from India’s Crisis” on wtert.org and blog.wtert.org

Waste Minimisation – Role of Public, Private and Community Sector

waste-minisationWhen it comes to waste minimisation and moving material up the waste hierarchy you will find partisan advocates for the roles of the public, private and community sectors. Each will tell you the reasons why their sector’s approach is the best. The private sector will extol their virtues as the only ones capable of efficiently and effectively doing the job.  They rightly note that they are the providers on the front lines who actually recover the vast majority of material, that the private sector approach drives innovation and efficiency, and that if waste minimisation is to be sustainable this must include economic sustainability.

The community sector on the other hand will make a strong case to say that their model, because it commonly encompasses social, environmental, and economic outcomes, is able to leverage value from recovered materials to dig deeper into the waste stream, to optimise recovered material quality, and to maximise employment and local economic benefit.

Before recycling and composting were economically viable prospects, community sector organisations led the way, developing many of the techniques now widely used. They remain the leaders in marginal areas such as furniture reuse, running projects that deliver environmental outcomes while providing wider community benefits such as rehabilitation and training for marginalised groups.

Finally, in the public sector corner, advocates will point out that the profit-driven private sector will only ever recover those materials that are able to generate positive revenues, and so cannot maximise waste minimisation, while social outcomes are strictly a secondary consideration. The community sector, on the other hand, while encompassing non-monetary values and capable of effective action on a local scale, is not set up to deliver these benefits on a larger scale and can sometimes struggle to deliver consistent, professional levels of service.

The public sector can point to government’s role in legislating to promote consistent environmental and social outcomes, while councils are major providers and commissioners of recycling services and instrumental in shaping public perceptions around waste issues. The public sector often leads in directing activity towards non-monetary but otherwise valuable outcomes, and provides the framework and funding for equity of service levels.

So who is right? Each sector has good arguments in its favour, and each has its weaknesses. Does one approach carry the day?  Should we just mix and match according to our personal taste or based on what is convenient?

Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Maybe the issue is not “which approach is better?” but instead “how might the different models help us get to where we ultimately want to go?”

Smells Like Waste Minimisation

So where do we want to go?  What is the waste minimisation end game?

If we think about things from a zero waste perspective, the ideal is that we should move from linear processes of extraction, processing, consumption and disposal, to cyclical processes that mimic nature and that re-integrate materials into economic and natural systems.  This is the nirvana – where nothing is ‘thrown away’ because everything has a further beneficial use.  In other words what we have is not waste but resources.  Or to put it another way – everything has value.

Assuming that we continue to operate in an essentially capitalist system, value has to be translated into economic terms.  Imagine if every single thing that we now discard was worth enough money to motivate its recovery.  We would throw nothing away: why would we if there was money to be made from it?

So in a zero waste nirvana the private sector and the community sector would take care of recovery almost automatically.  There might evolve a community and private sector mix, with each occupying different niches depending on desired local outcomes. There would be no need for the public sector to intervene to promote waste minimisation.  All it would need to do would be to set some ground rules and monitor the industry to ensure a level playing field and appropriate health and safety.

Sectoral Healing

Returning to reality, we are a long way from that zero waste nirvana.  As things stand, a bunch of materials do have economic value, and are widely recycled. Another layer of materials have marginal value, and the remainder have no value in practical terms (or even a negative value in the case of hazardous wastes).

The suggested shift in perspective is most obvious in terms of how we think about the role of the public sector. To bring us closer to our goal, the public sector needs to intervene in the market to support those materials of marginal value so that they join the group that has genuine value.

Kerbside (or curbside) collection of certain materials, such as glass and lower value plastics, is an example of an activity that is in effect subsidised by public money. These subsidies enable the private sector to achieve environmental outcomes that we deem sufficiently worthwhile to fund.

However, the public sector should not just be plugging a gap in the market (as it largely does now), but be working towards largely doing itself out of a job. If we are to progress towards a cyclical economy, the role of the public sector should not be to subsidise marginal materials in perpetuity, but to progressively move them from marginal to genuinely economic, so that they no longer require support.

At the same time new materials would be progressively targeted and brought through so that the range and quantity requiring disposal constantly shrinks.  This suggests a vital role for the public sector that encompasses research, funding for development of new technologies and processes, and setting appropriate policy and price structures (such as through taxes, levies, or product stewardship programmes).

Similarly, the community sector, because it is able to ‘dig deeper’ into the waste stream, has a unique and ongoing role to play in terms of being able to more effectively address those materials of marginal value as they begin to move up the hierarchy.  The community sector’s unique value is its ability to work at the frontiers.

Meanwhile, the private sector’s resources and creativity will be needed to enable efficient systems to be developed to manage collection, processing and recycling of materials that reach the threshold of economic viability – and to create new, more sustainable products that fit more readily into a waste minimising world.

In the end, then, perhaps the answer is to stop seeing the three models as being in competition. Instead, we should consciously be utilising the unique characteristics of each so that we can evolve our practices towards a future that is more functional and capable of delivering the circular economy that must eventuate if we are to sustain ourselves on this planet.

Note: The article is being republished with the kind permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be viewed at this link

Different Strategies in Composting

Composting can be categorized into different categories depending on the nature of decomposition process. The three major segments of composting are anaerobic composting, aerobic composting, and vermicomposting. In anaerobic composting, the organic matter is decomposed in the absence of air. Organic matter may be collected in pits and covered with a thick layer of soil and left undisturbed six to eight months. Anaerobic microorganisms dominate and develop intermediate compounds including methane, organic acids, hydrogen sulphide and other substances. The process is low-temperature, slow and the compost formed may not be completely converted and may include aggregated masses and phytotoxic compounds.

Aerobic Composting

Aerobic composting is the process by which organic wastes are converted into compost or manure in presence of air. In this process, aerobic microorganisms break down organic matter and produce carbon dioxide, ammonia, water, heat and humus, the relatively stable organic end-product. Although aerobic composting may produce intermediate compounds such as organic acids, aerobic microorganisms decompose them further. The resultant compost, with its relatively unstable form of organic matter, has little risk of phytotoxicity. The heat generated accelerates the breakdown of proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates such as cellulose and hemicellulose. Hence, the processing time is shorter. Moreover, this process destroys many micro-organisms that are human or plant pathogens, as well as weed seeds, provided it undergoes sufficiently high temperature. Although more nutrients are lost from the materials by aerobic composting, it is considered more efficient and useful than anaerobic composting for agricultural production.

There are a variety of methods for aerobic composting, the most common being the Heap Method, where organic matter needs to be divided into three different types and to be placed in a heap one over the other, covered by a thin layer of soil or dry leaves. This heap needs to be mixed every week, and it takes about three weeks for conversion to take place. The process is same in the Pit Method, but carried out in specially constructed pits. Mixing has to be done every 15 days, and there is no fixed time in which the compost may be ready. Berkley Method uses a labor-intensive technique and has precise requirements of the material to be composted. Easily biodegradable materials, such as grass, vegetable matter, etc., are mixed with animal matter in the ratio of 2:1. Compost is usually ready in 15 days.

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is a type of composting in which certain species of earthworms are used to enhance the process of organic waste conversion and produce a better end-product. It is a mesophilic process utilizing microorganisms and earthworms. Earthworms feeds the organic waste materials and passes it through their digestive system and gives out in a granular form (cocoons) which is known as vermicompost. Earthworms consume organic wastes and reduce the volume by 40–60 percent. Each earthworm weighs about 0.5 to 0.6 gram, eats waste equivalent to its body weight and produces cast equivalent to about 50 percent of the waste it consumes in a day. The moisture content of castings ranges between 32 and 66 percent and the pH is around 7.

The level of nutrients in compost depends upon the source of the raw material and the species of earthworm. Apart from other nutrients, a fine worm cast is rich in NPK which are in readily available form and are released within a month of application. Vermicompost enhances plant growth, suppresses disease in plants, increases porosity and microbial activity in soil, and improves water retention and aeration.

Foam Packaging: Take the Bull by the Horns

foam-packaging-wasteNew York City and Oxford are two prominent examples of local authorities that have tried to restrict the use of foam packaging for takeaway food and drink, arguing that doing so would reduce the environmental impact of waste in a way that alternative approaches could not. In both cases, the intervention of packaging manufacturers has lifted or watered down the rules. Other administrations might well be put off the idea of similar measures – but the argument for cracking down on foam packaging that almost unavoidably gives rise to regional waste management problems, as well as wider environmental degradation through its contribution to litter, remains hard to ignore. Bans, however, may not be the only option.

Menace of Foam Packaging

A particular target for action has been expanded polystyrene (EPS). It’s rigid and a good insulator, and yet a great deal of it is air, making it very lightweight: it’s little wonder that EPS trays, cups and ‘clamshells’ are staples of the industry. It’s also widely used in pre-moulded form in the packaging of electronics, and as loose fill packaging in the form of ‘peanuts’.

While no-one would deny its convenience, for waste managers, EPS is a challenge, for many of the same reasons that it is popular. It’s light and difficult to compact, so it fills up bins and collection vehicles quickly; and takes up a great deal of space if you try to bulk and haul it for recycling.

It’s easy to see, then, why in 2013 New York City’s council voted unanimously to prohibit the use of EPS by all restaurants, food carts, and stores. Yet from the outset, the ban proposal faced stiff opposition from retailers and manufacturers, with packaging giant Dart Container Corp. and the American Chemistry Council reportedly organising a million dollars’ worth of lobbying against the legislation. Once it took effect, the industry quickly managed to overturn it in the courts last month.

Ban on the Run

The city had found that the recycling of EPS was not, in fact, environmentally effective, economically feasible and safe, and NYC was declared EPS-free in July 2015. But in a widely reported ruling, Justice Margaret Chan deemed the decision “arbitrary and capricious”: the complex case turned on the question of whether there was a recycling market for EPS, and the judge decided that Commissioner Kathryn Garcia of the city’s Department of Sanitation had failed to take account of evidence supplied by the industry that such a market did exist.

Although it lacked the courtroom drama of the New York City case, a similar story played out in Oxford last year. The city council proposed to use its licensing powers to require street traders to use only “biodegradable and recyclable” packaging and utensils. The move was stymied by semantics: the Foodservice Packaging Association lobbied for the phrasing of the proposed licensing rule to be amended to ‘biodegradable or recyclable’. That tiny change allowed continued use of expanded polystyrene, as it is technically recyclable (though certainly not biodegradable).

Oxford’s traders are also required to arrange for the correct disposal of EPS takeaway packaging from their premises. This is an odd requirement given that take-away food is usually – well – taken away, and then disposed of in street bins, household bins, or in no bin at all. Unfortunately, Oxford City Council – like almost every other council in the country – isn’t currently able to send EPS for recycling, so the EPS it collects will in practice end up in the residual stream. The EPS litter that escapes will linger in the environment for centuries to come.

Foam Suit

It seems that both courts and councillors have been impressed by the manufacturers’ argument: ‘Why ban a highly efficient product when you can invest in recycling it instead?’ However, there are three important points that count against this contention.

The first is that, whilst EPS can technically be recycled, the economics of doing so remain tenuous. Zero Waste Scotland’s report on Plastic Recycling Business Opportunities found that polystyrene waste compacting and collection was the only one of five options considered that did not represent a viable business opportunity in Scotland.

In order to make the finances of collecting EPS for recycling stack up in New York, Dart Corporation and Plastics Recycling Inc. had to offer to provide the city with $500,000 of sorting technology; pay for four staff; and guarantee to buy the material at $160 per tonne for five years. Without this (time limited) largesse, New York’s ban would likely have stood.

They also provided a list of 21 buyers, who they claimed would purchase dirty EPS – although when the city did a market test, it could find no realistic market for the material. It’s hard to know whose view of the US market is correct; however, in the UK, the market is definitely weak.

Of the 34 EPS recyclers listed by the BPF Expanded Polystyrene Group, 12 only accept clean EPS – ruling out post-consumer fast food waste. Another dozen will only accept compacted EPS, creating an extra processing cost for anyone attempting to separate EPS for recycling. That leaves a maximum of ten UK outlets: not enough to handle the potential supply, and leaving large tracts of the country out of economic haulage range for such a bulky, lightweight material.

Foam fatale

The second is that it’s difficult to get a high percentage of takeaway food containers into the recycling stream. Food eaten on the go is likely, at best, to go into a litter bin. And if it’s littered, because it’s light, EPS can also easily be blown around the streets, contributing to urban, riverine and ultimately marine litter. It’s also very slow to break down in the natural environment. Polystyrene has been found to make up 8% of marine litter washed up on North East Atlantic beaches; in all, plastics account for three quarters of this litter. The cost, particularly for coastal and island nations, is only beginning to be recognised.

That leads on to the third argument: while EPS undoubtedly works, less damaging alternatives are clearly available. Vegware, for example, allows takeaway boxes to be moved up the waste hierarchy – from disposal to composting. Reducing impacts was clearly a consideration in Oxford: in the words of Councillor Colin Cooke:

“It is about making the waste that we do have to get rid of more user-friendly and sustainable.”

The economic and technical difficulty in recycling EPS, combined with the long-term impacts of its littering and disposal, led Michelle Rose Rubio to conclude, in an Isonomia article last year, that environmentally minded people – and perhaps governments – should perhaps avoid it altogether.

Silver Lining

Despite the discouraging events in New York and Oxford, there’s better news from elsewhere. Bans remain in place in Toronto and Paris (both dating from 2007), while Muntinlupa in the Philippines, and the coastal state of Malaka in Malaysia have imposed charges, fines, and biodegradable replacements for EPS food packaging, eventually leading to bans.

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead has indicated that the Scottish Government is: “considering a number of options in line with the commitment in the national litter strategy to influence product design of frequently littered items to reduce their environmental impact… [W]e note a number of US cities have introduced bans on Styrofoam products, most recently New York City. We are keen to learn from these cities’ experience of introducing and implementing such bans.”

In Wales, a polystyrene ban petition lodged last year by Friends of Barry Beaches has been picking up support. The Foodservice Packaging Association’s pre-emptive opposition to the notion certainly suggests we haven’t heard the last of EPS food packaging bans in the UK.

However, bans are not the only way to deter the use of problem products. England has just joined the ranks of countries to impose a charge for single use plastic bags. Belgium has a tax on disposable cutlery, and Malta taxes numerous products on environmental grounds, including chewing gum and EPS clamshells. Whilst beyond the powers of local authorities, fiscal measures could drive change while being a bit less of a blunt instrument than a ban.

While EPS manufacturers may have scored some recent successes, they haven’t won the overarching argument. As we push towards a more circular economy, the pressure to reduce our reliance on materials that are inherently hard to recycle, which tend to escape into the environment, and which don’t decompose naturally, will grow. For EPS fast food packaging, the chips could soon be well and truly down.

Note: This article is being republished with the permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be found at this link.