How To Improve Waste Management Across Society

Improving waste management on a society wide scale differs between individual cities & towns i.e. the exact same solutions might be implemented across all cities/towns.

In the guide below, we outline what things might need to be taken into consideration when developing a waste management strategy.

We also give some examples of solutions that cities and towns might implement to improve different areas of waste management, and also to address different waste management related problems.


Summary – How To Improve Waste Management Across Society

Improving Waste Management Will Be Different For Different Cities & Towns

Different cities and towns have different conditions, factors and variables to consider that will impact the strategies and solutions they will choose to improve their waste management systems

We’ve previously written about some of these conditions, factors and variables in these guides about the best way to manage waste, and comparing the main waste management options in society


How To Improve Waste Management Across Society (At The City Or Town Level)

The points we outline in the guide below that might need to be taken into consideration for cities and towns looking to improve their waste management systems might include:

1. Be aware of the current waste management system, and how it’s working

2. Get an understanding of the capacity to change, modify or improve the current waste management system

3. Be aware of other variables that impact waste management

4. Formulate a short, medium and long term waste management strategy

5. Implement waste management changes and solutions


1. Be Aware Of The Current Waste Management Systems, & How They Are Working

Each city or town has their own waste management system currently in operation.

Different towns have different waste management programs, waste management facilities (that operate with different processes, equipment and technology), and ultimately different capabilities to manage waste

Each city or town needs to take into consideration their waste management system, and how it works, to get an idea of where they might make improvements or changes


2. Get An Understanding Of The Capacity To Change, Modify Or Improve The Current Waste Management System

To change, modify, or improve an existing waste management system, there needs to be the financial, political, social and practical means to do so.

Each city or town will have to consider their different budgets and tax bases (and strengths of economies), different political means, different levels of social support, different levels of technical knowledge, and different practical challenges and limitations in the way when proposing changes to the existing waste management system.

Some cities or towns may have much greater capacity/ability to change, modify or improve their waste management systems than others do.


3. Be Aware Of Other Variables That Impact Waste Management 

Other major and also more minor variables can impact a waste management system.

Two of the major ones are:

1. The different types of waste being generated, and how each type of waste is ideally managed

Each city or town should consider the makeup of their current waste profile (what types of waste they generate and in what % share of all waste), and also what waste management options they have available to process and manage these different types of waste (such as landfill, recycling, incineration, composting, and so on)


2. The pros, cons, tradeoffs and requirements and capabilities of each waste management option/method

Each waste management option/method has different capabilities to manage different types of waste, and also pros and cons that come with managing different types of waste

We previously wrote a guide comparing the different main waste management options in society, and you can find links to the pros and cons of these options in that guide

There’s also tradeoffs-offs to managing waste in different ways.

For example, additional recycling for some types of waste can be more sustainable in the area of addressing resource depletion, however, other types of waste may be inefficient to recycle and not have a valuable end market, and therefore be costly to recycle. We previously discussed some aspects of this in a separate guide about the profitability and economic feasibility of recycling 

Furthermore, in some instances, it may be more sustainable to stray away from waste management concepts like the waste hierarchy that prioritise recycling.

The same might be said about similar concepts – the R’s of sustainability, waste management and recycling.

It may be more sustainable from an energy use and carbon footprint perspective to dispose of some types of waste (to landfill or incineration) and replace them with a new product, rather than try to re-use or recycle a product to prevent it from becoming waste

We discuss the best ways of managing waste and different tradeoffs in this guide


4. Formulate A Short, Medium & Long Term Waste Management Strategy

Waste management strategies for cities and towns might be broken down into short, medium and long term phases.

There’s also several key factors that can determine how a strategy is formulated …


– What Are The Priorities & Goals For The Strategy?

Firstly, decision makers have to decide on what the priorities and goals are in relation to waste management.

Economic, sustainability, social and practical priorities might be taken into account.

Decision makers have to decide how much they prioritise sustainability goals over economic goals for example (or vice versa).

Even when singling out sustainability, there’s many different sustainability indicators, so, decision makers have to decide on what sustainability indicator/s are most important to prioritise – for example, is it greenhouse gas emissions, resource management and depletion, energy use, water use, some type of pollution (like water, soil, or air pollution), or another indicator altogether?


– What Will Be Kept The Same, & What Will Be Changed?

Based on the determination of what the main priorities and goals relating to waste management are, there then has to decisions made on what to keep the same from the existing waste management systems, and, also what will be changed.


5. Implement Waste Management Changes & Solutions

At this point, changes to the existing waste management system, and solutions to specific waste management related problems can be implemented.

Some of the potential changes and solutions that can be implemented, the area of waste management they can be implemented in, and the potential waste management problem they might help address, might include but aren’t limited to:


– Landfill

Some of the different ways to improve landfill sites from an environmental and sustainability perspective might include having an effective soil liner (and making sure to maintain or replace it as required), having an effective leachate management system, considering the use of gas capture for energy generation (from methane), securing the perimeter of the site to prevent waste leaking and becoming waste pollution in the environment, and rehabilitating or re-using the land when the landfill comes to the end of it’s lifespan.


– Recycling

Some of the different ways to improve recycling facilities from a practical perspective might include introducing multi stream recycling in place of single stream recycling (increased efficiency for some material like glass, but can be more expensive), and upgrading recycling facility equipment, technology and processes to recycle both a wider range of waste and more waste, as well as recycle waste more efficiently.

There’s a number of ways that glass recycling could be improved in the US (to match glass recycling rates in other countries), but it may come with some tradeoffs

Recycling programs can be set up in different cities with drop off locations to recycle textiles that can’t be recycling through regular waste streams

We also wrote a general guide about some of the different ways recycling rates might be increased, and recycling might be improved across society

Considering the different methods of recycling, such as closed loop vs open loop recycling, may also provide better ways to handle some types of waste


– Incineration

Some of the different ways to improve recycling facilities from an environmental or sustainability perspective might include using emission capture and dioxin capture technology and devices, adequately treating and managing fly ash waste, having adequate environmental laws and regulations in place for the operation of incineration plants, requiring auditing and reporting on the sustainability performance of incineration plants, and ensuring waste-to-energy plants are more sustainable than the energy generation they are replacing. 


– Composting

Some of the different ways to improve composting from an environmental or sustainability perspective might include using aerobic composting over anaerobic composting where possible (to reduce methane emissions), and, making the best use of composting products like organic matter or soil fertilizer from compost mixes.


– Addressing Littering

More bins in heavily populated, heavily trafficked, or heavily littered areas may make it easier and more convenient for citizens to dispose of their waste in these bins without littering.

Additionally, being aware of the most littered waste items across society can help in knowing what waste there might be a focus on preventing or reducing in the future.


– Addressing Dumping/Discharge Of Waste Into The Environment By The Industrial Sector

As examples of this, we’ve previously identified how dredged material, sewage sludge, and other waste can be dumped untreated into the ocean.

Requiring adequate treatment of waste prior to dumping or discharging it into the environment is the obvious solution here.

Stricter regulations, and more effective monitoring and reporting on certain types of industrial waste may also help.


– Addressing Waste Pollution In General

Waste pollution is one of the most wide ranging issues in society.

We’ve previously written a guide about waste pollution and the various potential solutions that could address different aspects of it.


– Addressing Resource Depletion, & Managing Resources More Sustainably

We may be able to manage resources in a more sustainable way and reduce the risk of some resources being depleted with recycling and resource recovery from waste.

As a few examples:

There might be potential to recover a significant amount more metal from e-waste than what is currently recovered

Some metals (such as lithium) can’t be recovered from batteries without additional processes that are costly, and specific equipment to do so. If battery recycling processes can be improved, there may be potential for better metal recovery from battery recycling


– Other Potential Solutions

In the ‘Challenges’ section of the listed resource, there’s several points that provide potential solutions to several current waste management challenges.

For example, better waste management data collection and tracking, and better co-ordination between different parties along the waste management chain could help improve waste management at the city or town level


In this guide about San Francisco’s current waste management system, we identified various things San Francisco did to divert more waste away from landfills, and towards recycling and composting.

One of the things we listed was the co-ordination between councils/governments, and waste management companies.

It can be easier to streamline and improve the efficiency of waste management strategies with fewer partnerships, and also making those partnerships more long term so that changes and improvements can be implemented over time


Other potential approaches to waste management can include concepts like ‘Zero Waste’, however, zero waste has it’s own pros and cons to consider




1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides



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