What is Waste Management?
Waste management is the term used to describe the actions and activities needed to oversee waste from its inception to its disposal. This includes the storage, collection, transportation, and disposal of waste, all whilst monitoring and regulating that process.
The ultimate goal for waste management is to reduce the negative effects waste can have on the environment and on human well-being. Nonetheless, as a species, it seems as though we can’t quite decide on the best management practices. The process of disposing of waste is not globally standardised and the variations in regional laws means that there are numerous – and sometimes quite creative – ways different countries manage their rubbish.
This guide will offer you everything you need to know about waste management – all in one place!
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Principles of Waste Management
The waste hierarchy pyramid is a tool used to establish the preferred disposal method for household and commercial rubbish. Whilst, at the top of the pyramid, these methods are the most sought after (largely because they are most beneficial for the environment), they are unfortunately the least common. A considerable reason landfill and incineration are the most frequent methods of waste disposal is because they are typically the cheapest and easiest to carry out on mass.
‘Reduce’ is to cut down on waste production in the first place. A really good example of this is the movements surrounding single-use plastics. You may remember in early 2019, the campaigns for banning plastic straws. Straws are a typical single-use product which are essentially needless, couple that with the fact that they are often made from non-recyclable plastic and now they are not only needless but harmful.
‘Reuse’ refers to seeking alternative uses for the household and commercial rubbish produced. An example would be to repurpose plastic bottles into ‘eco-bricks’ for non-load bearing walls, or reusing glass food jars for flower pots or perhaps even drinking glasses (if the shape is accommodating – like the small Nutella jars).
‘Recycling’ is the action of converting waste products into reusable material to either make the same original product or an alternative product which is made from that waste material. For instance, recycling paper with notes on them into fresh blank paper. Recycling is different to reusing because recycling requires a mechanical process to produce something useable, whereas reusing is simply finding an alternative purpose for something instead of throwing it away.
‘Energy’ refers to taking the waste and converting it into energy. An example would be Gasification, where carbonaceous rubbish would be heated at high temperatures in the presence of oxygen to produce a Synthesis gas. This Synthesis gas is then used to make electricity and heat energy and so is a particularly useful waste management solution.
‘Incineration’ is where the waste is burned at such a high temperature that it reduces it to ash or gas and is not converted into energy. What immediately comes to mind is the burning tire pile that you can see in the Simpson’s intro.
‘Landfill’ refers to stockpiling waste and, more recently, includes burying it under these landfill sites. This is particularly common in low economically developed countries since it is the least expensive and simplest form of waste management. Not only are landfill sites an eyesore, but they are also harmful to the environment and exemplify the issue of humans outgrowing the Earth.
Life-Cycle of a Product
The life-cycle of a product from its inception to its disposal is as follows: design and resource gathering, manufacturing, distribution, intended/primary use, and then through to the waste hierarchy options. At each stage of a product’s life cycle, there are opportunities to reduce waste.
For instance, we could consider whether we really need the product (like straws); whether we can redesign it to minimise its waste potential (using recyclable paper to make the straws or metal for reusable straws); or whether we can use it to produce energy rather than sending it to landfill. Product life-cycle analysis is a fantastic way to optimise the use of the planet’s finite resources to reduce the amount of waste we produce.
The concept of resource efficiency is the understanding that current consumption patterns and demands are not sustainable with the rate of worldwide economic and population growth. Globally, we use more resources to produce goods than the planet can replenish. As such, there is a need to use our limited resources efficiently and to reduce the environmental impact caused by producing these goods. Efficient waste management is a key way to ensure that.
The polluter-pays principle suggests that the person or organisation that pollutes must be responsible and pay for the impact their pollution has on the environment. In terms of waste management, the waste generator is required to pay for the appropriate removal of any unrecoverable material.
History of Waste Management
Due to the low global population density and relatively minimal efforts to exploit the Earth’s natural resources before the Industrial era, the amount of human-produced waste was largely insignificant.
The most common form of waste was human biodegradable waste such as excrement or organic food produce. To dispose of this, it was simply buried and left to naturally decompose with minimal environmental impact. Tools and other product made from wood and metal were typically reused or passed down to new generations and so even tools were rarely wasted.
However, things changed after the Industrial era. Cities, in England, saw huge urban growth and the development of large scale factories. This caused a significant build-up of waste in the cities and sanitation levels and general quality of life rapidly deteriorated. Waste of all types starting to fill the streets and urban life became reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic world. Soon there were mass appeals for waste to be removed from the cities and to a distant place – essentially this was the start of a waste management plan.
In The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population 1842, Edwin Chadwick argued that the adequate removal of waste and sufficient management facilities was a necessity to improve health and wellbeing of England’s city populations. This proposal spurred on subsequent legislative measures.
But a few decades later, The Public Health Act 1875 made a significant impact to the UK. The act made it compulsory for every household to deposit their waste in ‘moveable receptacles’ for disposal on a weekly basis – essentially a bin. Furthermore, at this time, incinerator factories were made to destroy the waste produced by both houses and businesses. However, these factories were largely opposed since they produced ash clouds which spread over nearby areas.
The earliest forms of rubbish removal trucks were open truck carriages pulled by horses. They became motorised in the early 20th century and closed top trucks were introduced in the 1920s to reduce odours and provide a dumping mechanism for drop off. And in 1938, the Garwood Load Packer was the first truck made with a hydraulic compactor in order to take on more rubbish per collection route.
Since then, the focus for waste management has been largely focused on waste-to-energy production technologies and developments for the modern-day garbage trucks. Further information about waste removal technologies will be discussed later.
Waste Handling and Transport
Household waste collection services are typically provided by local councils and commercial waste collection services are often provided by private companies such as CheaperWaste. But the councils and private companies will likely use similar waste handling methods and transport for rubbish such as general waste, but specialist equipment is used for other types such as hazardous waste.
Waste Handling Transport Practices
The typical waste handling practices in the UK for non-hazardous waste is for consumers or businesses to put their refuse in segregated bins (often in bags), store them in there for a week, and then move the bins to an accessible area for a waste truck to come and pick them up and empty them. That being said, in rural areas, waste may need to be transferred to a transfer station before it is picked up by the removal trucks.
The trucks then take them to the appropriate facility for their disposal. For instance, recyclable rubbish will be taken to a recycling unit, whereas food waste will likely be taken to an incineration or waste-to-energy facility.
For this system to be efficient, however, the consumer or business must segregate their own waste before it is picked up for removal. That is why the UK introduced the black, blue, green, and brown bins. Each bin is for a specific type of waste:
Some business will require larger bins, however, but the type of waste expected to be placed into each bin will be clearly labelled despite likely being a different colour. Hazardous waste bins, for instance, are typically yellow or red and are made from specialist materials. This type of refuse needs to be removed with caution and the handling process requires particular attention.
Waste Management and Recycling
Recycling is the process of transforming waste into new useful materials. It is an alternative approach to regular landfill or incineration processes and contributes significantly to reducing the effects of climate change and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Recycling has the potential to save potentially useful materials from ending up in landfill and has the knock-on effect of reducing the demand for producing fresh raw materials in the first place. Furthermore, it also reduces the demand for energy usage, air pollution (from incineration), and water pollution (from landfill). As such, recycling is arguably the most popular and publically supported alternative waste management treatment.
Recyclable materials include a variety of plastics, metals, textiles, cardboard, glass, paper, tires, electronics, and batteries. Some biodegradable waste such as food and garden refuse is also recyclable when it is converted into compost. These materials are stored in specific bins and then transported to facilities where they are sorted, cleaned, and reprocessed into new useful materials.
In its purest form, recycling a material would produce a fresh supply of that exact material. An example would be recycling metal cans back into metal cans and so on without losing the product purity. However, that is very difficult and expensive – especially when compared to how much it costs to produce a metal can from raw materials for instance. That is why recycling usually involves producing different useful products from the recyclable material. Such as recycling office paper waste into paperboard.
Another form of recycling is to salvage certain materials from complex products due to its intrinsic value – such as the gold from circuit boards. Other examples include lead from vehicle batteries and mercury from thermometers.
Reuse is the action of using an item or material for multiple times for its original purpose or for an entirely different function. A well-known example for the former is plastic shopping bags, and a good example of the latter is using jam jars as flower pots.
Reusing over recycling helps save money, energy, time and resources because there is no need for mechanical cleaning and reprocessing. Historically, the driving force behind reuse was financially motivated, but with mass production methods making the manufacturing of new products increasingly cheaper, now the focus for reuse is more environmentally concerned.
- Reduces the disposal needs and associated costs
- It is still typically cheaper to reuse an item or material than to purchase a new one
- Energy and raw materials are saved which has a positive effect on the environment
- Reuse often requires cleaning or transportation of the item which has knock-on costs and environmental effects
- Reusable products need to be more durable than single-use products and so will likely require more material – think about the thicker plastic shopping bags!
- Sorting and preparing items for reuse can be fairly costly for businesses and inconvenient for consumers
Technologies and The Future
Typically, the waste management industry has been a late adopter of new technologies. For instance, it took the industry years to start using GPS on trucks, automation software for optimal pickup routes, and for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags after their mainstream introduction to other industries.
Nonetheless, we are starting to see some really intriguing technological advancements and the following innovations are examples of how waste management can be improved:
Automated Waste Collection
Greener Ideal have reported a growing interest and implementation of automated waste collection technologies. The most appealing process is for households and offices to be connected to a waste disposal collection centre via an underground tube network. Disney has already begun making this concept a reality in their theme-parks. They have an automated system which recognises when their bins are full, and once they fill up the bottom drops from underneath it and the rubbish goes down the tube to a central collection location.
Ecube Labs have developed a solar-powered rubbish compactor bin which can hold up top 8x more waste than a regular bin of the same size. This reportedly reduces the frequency for collection by 80% and the Ecube has gained worldwide interest because of that.
Bin-e is a smart waste bin which automatically detects, sorts and compresses rubbish inserted into it. It makes use of artificial intelligence to recognise the various waste materials and segregate them accordingly. Once full (after compressing the rubbish), the smart bin informs your cleaning service automatically so they can optimise their waste collection schedules.
This not only practically amazing but it also provides a rich dataset which your business can then use to determine consumption patterns and inform any decisions about alternative eco-produce.
Why Waste Management is Important for a Small Business
Business waste can be incredibly costly and with landfill taxes rising annually it would be a mistake to ignore waste management as an area for potential savings. Furthermore, it is particularly important for a small business since even the smallest of savings could prove vital for the growth of the company.
The market is ‘going green’
Environmental consciousness is at the forefront of many commercial sectors. All the big players are actively seeking ways to reduce their waste and to implement eco-friendly solutions. There is now an expectation for businesses of all sizes to follow suit.
Your customers and employees care
Consumers are far more aware of the environmental impact companies have and trends indicate that consumers are beginning to actively seek businesses who are ‘going green‘ and being responsible for their waste. Similarly, employees want to feel proud of the company they work for and so how a business operates is of huge significance to them.
You have a legal responsibility
There are multiple waste management regulations which are enforced upon small businesses for environmental and health reasons. You may have heard of the Duty of Care regulations businesses have to adhere to. If you do not follow your Duty of Care documents you will be subject to harsh fines and potentially fatal penalties.
What you can do about your Waste Management
A Waste Audit
Conducting a waste audit is something which can be done in-house or externally. If you’re a small business then it is likely that you will favour an in-house approach which is why we have a ‘how to conduct a waste audit‘ article for you.
A waste audit will help you identify your major sources of waste, how it is currently stored and how it is collected and disposed of. From this, you can optimise and streamline your business operations to minimise waste and to find environmentally friendly alternatives.
Executing a Waste Management Plan
After your waste audit, you should come up with a waste management plan. You should consider the Duty of Care legislation and the waste hierarchy pyramid. You should inform and encourage all employees to assist in successfully implementing your new plan. And if your waste audit identifies that your waste management service could be doing better then make sure that changing servicers is part of your plan.
Picking a Waste Management Service
As a business, you are legally required to have a waste management service. But it is crucial that you pick the right one. You need to consider price, efficiency, and a whole variety of factors.
Why CheaperWaste has got your back!
Here at CheaperWaste we are the UK’s fastest-growing waste management company and we are growing fast for a reason. We offer the best service, at inexpensive prices, and are focused on small businesses. We understand your business’ needs and have a team catered to help you grow and succeed. Get a quote for free and see how much you can save today!