Effective waste management systems will become even more important as our societies look to reduce their environmental impacts. Over 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2e were generated from municipal solid waste in 2016, and that’s projected to rise by 63% by 2050. North America stands out once again, this time for its daily per capita waste generation – roughly 3 times the global average.
To improve waste management worldwide, there aren’t specific solutions that can be implemented everywhere. Mostly because some regions of the world have much better waste management techniques and resources than others. However, there are key concepts that can help differentiate good waste management systems from the bad.
Waste collection is the most important aspect of waste management. To treat our trash, we first need to collect it. One option to improve waste collection is to implement financial incentives, which could also help trash-pickers make a living. Overall, avoiding open dumping and the uncontrolled incineration of trash is essential.
Then, well designed landfills and efficient diverting systems can help reduce GHG emissions and extend landfill lifetimes. It’s important to improve recycling systems, since they can be used to divert trash from landfills and prevent further resource/energy consumption. Unfortunately, recycling has its fair share of challenges to overcome, outlined by the fact that recycling plants in North America have contamination rates of roughly 25%. Composting is also key to reduce our impacts on the environment – not only to reduce methane emissions, but also to remediate damaged soils.
The difference in waste management quality between different regions of the world should encourage developed countries to take advantage of their resources, instead of exporting their trash. Additionally, since every country has some sort of waste management system already in place, it might be a good idea to learn from each other’s successes – to implement effective solutions across the globe, wherever possible.
Finally, industrial and agricultural waste remind us that in the end, MSW isn’t the only type of trash out there – and that systemic problems require systemic solutions. E-waste, yet another type of waste, is a prime example of how wasteful our societies are. We throw away millions of tonnes of ‘waste’ valued at billions of dollars into our environment every year, where it ends up inducing biodiversity loss and releasing pollutants into the atmosphere.