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 In these countries, use of unscientific and at times unethical and outdated waste management practices have led to various environmental repercussions and economic backlashes.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.

Waste Disposal Methods: Perspectives for Africa

Waste disposal methods vary from city to city, state to state and region to region. It equally depends on the kind and type of waste generated. In determining the disposal method that a city or nation should adopt, some factors like type, kind, quantity, frequency, and forms of waste need to be considered.

For the purpose of this article, we will look at the three common waste disposal methods and the kind of waste they accept.

Open Dumping/Burning

This is the crudest means of disposing of waste and it is mostly practiced in rural areas, semi-urban settlements, and undeveloped urban areas. For open dumping or open burning, every type and form of waste (including household waste, hazardous wastes, tires, batteries, chemicals) is dumped in an open area within a community or outside different homes in a community and same being set on fire after a number of days or when the waste generator or community feels it should be burnt.

There is no gainsaying that the negative health and environmental impact of such practice are huge only if the propagators know better.

Controlled Dumping

This is apparent in most States in Nigeria, if not all and some cities in Africa like Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon, to mention but a few. It is a method of disposing of all kinds of waste in a designated area of land by waste collectors and it is usually controlled by the State or City Government.

Opening burning of trash is a common practice across Africa

Controlled dumps are commonly found in urban areas and because they are managed by the government, some dumps do have certain features of a landfill like tenure of usage, basic record keeping, waste covering, etc. Many cities in Nigeria confuse the practice of controlled dumping as landfilling but this not so because a landfill involves engineering design, planning, and operation.

Sanitary Landfill

A sanitary landfill is arguably the most desired waste management option in reducing or eliminating public health hazards and environmental pollution. The landfill is the final disposal site for all forms and types of waste after the recyclable materials must have been separated for other usages and other biodegradables have been extracted from the waste for use as compost, heat, or energy; or after incineration. These extractions can be done at household level or Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) operated by the government or private individuals.

As desirable as a landfill is, so many factors need to be put into consideration in its siting and operation plus it requires a huge investment in construction and operation. Some of these factors include but not limited to distance from the residential area, proximity to water bodies, water-table level of the area the landfill is to be sited, earth material availability, and access road.

Note: The original version of the article was published on Waste Watch Africa website at this link.