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Introduction To Solid Waste Management

by | Feb 21, 2022 | Solid Waste Management


The management of solid waste plays an important role in the functioning of any society. Solid waste management can be described as processes related to controlling the generation of waste, and its collection, storage, and transport. It also involves disposing of waste in a way that does not harm public health and the environment.

Solid waste management involves functions such as planning, legal practices, administration, and finance. The solutions involving the management of solid waste include correlating studies from a wide range of fields. Some of which include geography, economics, engineering, public health, city planning, conservation, and communication.

The management of solid wastes takes on different forms to cater to different sections. The management of industrial waste can widely differ from that of residential waste. Management techniques also vary according to the development of an area (whether urban or rural). It can also differ for developing and developed countries.

Local government bodies are responsible for the collection, management, and transport of all non-hazardous waste. However, the responsibility of safely disposing of hazardous waste falls on the individual or organization that generates it.


Problems and Issues with Solid Waste

Problems and issues in the management of solid waste mostly arise in developing countries. The five areas which typically pose problems are:

  1. Services not reaching certain regions
  2. Inefficient operations of services
  3. Recycling activities not being utilized
  4. Hazardous waste not being properly managed

In developing countries, key issues in solid waste management arise due to the open, uncontrolled dumping of wastes. This problem is rarely dealt with because municipal bodies are not provided with the proper resources to manage and segregate waste. Political and local authorities also do not seem to prioritize the effective handling and disposal of wastes.

Around two-thirds of solid waste generated by cities is not collected. The uncollected waste often gets mixed with human and animal excreta. It gets dumped in drains and on the streets. This indiscriminate dumping contributes to the breeding of insects and diseases. The choked condition of drains causes flooding during the rains. Waste that is not dumped in drains is usually burnt. The burning of waste decreases the local quality of air and contributes to air pollution. It is often poor in developing countries that face the most dangerous due to the unsupervised disposal of solid wastes. This is because local authorities tend to focus their limited resources on richer areas of cities.


Functional Elements


1. Waste Generation

The rates of waste generation are on the rise throughout the world. According to a 2016 study by the World Bank Group, cities around the world generate 2.01 billion tonnes of solid waste annually. This amounts to a footprint of 0.74 kg of CO2 per person daily. With the rapid growth in population, the amount of waste generated annually is expected to rise to 3.40 billion tonnes by 2050.

2. Handling, Storage, and Collection

The handling of wastes involves all activities that occur up until waste is placed into storage containers for collection transport. Handling processes include separating different types of solid waste.

Solid waste is stored after it has been segregated or separated based on its type. Waste is normally stored in containers at the source until it can be collected.

The collection involves the transport of vehicles to the site of storage. Waste is collected and further transported to recycling or disposal facilities.

3. Transfer and Transport

The transportation or transfer of waste describes the movement of waste from the site of storage and collection to the site of disposal. Transport involves the movement of trucks, barges, trains, etc. The type of waste transported can range from municipal waste to hazardous and industrial waste.

4. Processing Techniques

There are 6 main methods of processing municipal solid waste. They are:

  1. Depositing waste in landfills
  2. Sorting
  3. Mechanical refining
  4. Combustion
  5. Anaerobic fermentation and composting
  6. Gasification and pyrolysis

The above methods of processing may not be applied uniformly throughout the world. Waste processing techniques differ from region to region. They depend on financial and local conditions.

5. Recovery and Disposal

Waste recovery refers to the preservation of resources by using waste as an alternative to other raw materials. Solid waste is mostly used in energy and thermal recovery processes. It is used as an alternative source of heat and power.

Disposal is any process that does not involve recovery. It involves dumping waste in the same state as it was collected. It is at this stage that waste should be treated appropriately before being disposed of. However, more than 90% of waste around the world is estimated to be dumped unsatisfactorily.


Effects of Improper Disposal of Solid Waste

On human health:

If organic waste/food waste is not disposed of properly or composted, its fermentation favors the growth of microbial pathogens. These pathogens contribute to the spread of diseases. If solid waste is not disposed of properly, it can cause infections and chronic diseases in the bodies of workers handling the waste.

Hazardous waste contains chemicals and heavy metals. Exposure to hazardous wastes can lead to the development of diseases such as cancer. If such wastes are dumped in rivers and lakes, toxins can accumulate in the bodies of plants, animals, and humans through the food chain. The improper disposal of syringes, bandages and other waste from hospitals can lead to the spread of infectious diseases.

On the environment:

Waste that is not collected by municipal bodies is usually burned. The burning of wastes releases toxic fumes and smoke into the atmosphere, leading to an increase in air pollution. Wastes dumped in rivers and lakes choke and destroy marine and fluvial animals and ecosystems. If organic and non-organic waste is dumped together in a landfill without segregation, the decomposition of organic wastes releases methane, which contributes to a warming climate. The release of methane also puts a landfill at a high risk of catching fire.



Need for Solid Waste Management

A majority of the world is struggling in dealing with its waste. In such regions, the implementation of an appropriate solid waste management program is important. Solid waste management (SWM) can make a huge positive impact on human health and the environment. It can also reduce the amount of change we are witnessing today in the climate.

The management of solid waste can also reduce the harsh conditions the urban poor are compelled to live in. It can provide economic opportunities to the urban poor. A good solid waste management program can reduce costs in the waste sector. It can free up taxpayers’ money for other issues.

When separated from other solid wastes, the composting of food and other organic wastes can be used for agriculture, as the use of compost in agriculture results in better yields.

Solid waste management up until now has only been the responsibility of corporate bodies. However, it should now be a priority for national governments as well, especially in developing countries.

The improper management of waste is an environmental and public health crisis. The effective management of solid waste can build healthier and more sustainable communities and societies. It can also greatly reduce the strain on natural resources and the environment.


Future Challenges and Opportunities

By the year 2050, world waste production is expected to rise significantly, with India and China contributing the most. With an increasing population, the problems associated with waste management will become more pronounced. This will provide new opportunities to NGOs and self-help groups for a decentralized waste management system. If waste containing high moisture content can be segregated, the potential for thermal and energy recovery could rise. Waste-to-energy technologies must be modeled and developed. These technologies can free up land that will otherwise be used as a landfill.

Taking India as an example, SWM is poor because qualified waste management professionals are not easily available. Also, the training imparted to workers in the system is inadequate. Lack of environmental awareness, public attitude, and improper government financing are other barriers to achieving an effective waste management system.

To counter these problems, data on the prediction of future quantities of waste is essential. This data can help determine appropriate equipment and treatment systems that should be used.




  • The author has done a master's in Environmental science and is currently working as chief Environmental Advisor with New Delhi State Government.


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