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The Importance of Sustainable Waste Management

The Importance of Sustainable Waste Management

Posted by Trashcans Unlimited on 18th Jun 2018

The Importance of Sustainable Waste Management

We live in a consumer society. We purchase products, use them, and discard them without concern or consideration for what may become of them after they leave our possession. We have developed an expectation that when we set our trash on the curb to be collected, we will no longer be reminded of it and – somehow – it will disappear from our lives.

The reality is that this vanishing act requires an organized, orchestrated waste management effort by local, state, federal, and private interests. Tremendous resources and planning go into the prevention or reduction of landfill sprawl, the minimization of leachate contamination, and the controlling of air, water, and pest contamination. While waste management is an everyday function of modern life, no one wants to be reminded of it by foul smells in the air, odd-tasting water, and an infestation of rats and seagulls.

Ideally, the way to achieve this would be to create a system in which no new waste enters the landfill, with user waste instead being processed into other products that encourage economic growth. This regenerative or circular model is a growing practice that promotes sustainability, allowing waste management operations to remain profitable under the stresses of a growing population with increasing needs.

This article will discuss why it is important to incorporate sustainability into your waste management plans.

The State of Waste Management Today

(Courtesy: Pixabay)

The State of Waste Management Today

It is estimated that the average American produces about three to four pounds of trash per day. With the American population at approximately 300 million, we collectively produce about 18,433,779,281 cubic feet of trash per year. If all of that waste were placed in a pit 400 feet deep, it would cover more than 1,000 acres. This is roughly the area covered by 1,000 football fields.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, approximately 53 percent of all municipal solid waste ends up in a landfill. Despite the fact that recycling rates are at 35 percent, and 13 percent of all municipal solid waste is used for energy production, these rates have plateaued.

“Current production and consumption systems do not offer enough incentives for preventing and reducing waste,” reads the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card’s Solid Waste Report. “From product design and packaging to material choices, the entire chain is not designed with waste prevention in mind.”

“Changing the way we think about waste requires effort by all the parties concerned: consumers, producers, policymakers, local authorities, and waste treatment facilities, among others. Increases in recycling can only occur where consumers are willing to sort their household waste and the infrastructure and market is in place to collect and utilize the recycled materials.”

Projecting a 0.7 percent annual population change rate in the United States, the national population is expected to expand by more than one hundred million people by the year 2050. Without an expansion of recovery efforts, such population growth will result in the opening of new landfills. This presents an environmental challenge, as much of the municipal solid waste produced – such as metals, Styrofoam, and plastics – are not readily degradable. Additionally, the production of greenhouse gases such as methane, possible leachate contamination, and the inevitable invitation of pests, will pose serious health risks during a time when land use will be critical.

Adding new landfills has another cost. New landfills require new equipment, trained operators, a consistent investment of capital and labor for the maintenance of these new sites, and an investment in the surrounding infrastructure to ensure timely disposal. Finding a way to maximize the use of existing facilities would not only open up new income lines from the reclaimed materials, but would save essential capital in the future.

Developing a Plan

Developing a sustainability plan is not as simple as buying new equipment or developing a new catchphrase. Regenerative waste management requires a completely new approach to the handling of solid waste.

This can be broken up into four steps:

  1. Becoming conscious of the waste being produced. The first step to sustainable waste management occurs before the waste product is thrown away. It is important to teach consumers to ask the right questions, such as, “Is this something that can be recycled, such as glass or metal?” “Can any food waste be rinsed off or separately discarded?” “Do any of the components require special handling, such as batteries?” As a business, ask yourself, “Have I made available the necessary information on how to properly sort trash?” “Are there proper containers available for sorting?” “Is there proper infrastructure available for the collection and processing of the sorted waste?” A good place to start your planning is with your choice of recycling containers. Trashcans Unlimited offers the best prices on commercial and decorative trash cans and is a trusted source for all your trash can needs.
  2. Plan early. By getting a head start on your sustainable waste management plan, you will be able to implement strategic planning, incorporate needed infrastructure more cheaply, and scale up your sustainability platform much more easily than you would be able to apply changes to an existing waste management plan. Planning early also gives you time to map out key strategic partnerships, to control cost and simplify operations.
  3. Share the responsibility. Collaboration is key when it comes to sustainability management. Public-Private Partnerships for Service Delivery (PPPSD) allows businesses and local governments to work together toward common goals of minimizing community waste, contributing to recycling and solid waste management infrastructure, quality-of-life enhancements, and other shared objectives.
  4. Maintaining an attitude of avoiding the landfills as much as possible. Improved sustainability requires a willingness by private and civic leaders to do what is needed to reach this goal, including the deployment of reclamation bins and vehicles, maintenance of roads and access points, and purchasing of balers, sorting equipment, and weights.

Forming a sustainable or circular waste management plan is not easy, but it is necessary. Ultimately, we only have one world, and proper custodianship of it is essential. If being a good global citizen can also serve to improve a business’s bottom line, so much the better. However, we no longer have the luxury of doing things as they were done before. It is crucial that we rethink how we view trash, and that we recognize the importance of creating meaningful end uses for the things we discard.