In the guide below, we outline what the best way to manage waste across society might be.
We provide answers from both a practical and sustainability perspective, and also list the different factors that might impact how waste it ultimately managed.
Summary – What Is The Best Way To Manage Waste In Society?
The Answer Depends On How You Determine What ‘Best’ Is
For example, the ‘best’ way to manage waste might depend on whether you are looking at a potential answer from more of a practical perspective, or, from a sustainability and environmental perspective
We discuss each of these potential answers in the guide below
Different Variables, Factors & Considerations That Might Impact How Waste Is Managed
There are a range of variables, factors and considerations that can impact how waste is managed
We list and explain some of the key ones in the guide below
Waste Management Is Best Assessed & Addressed On A Local & Individual Level
It might be accurate to say that when taking the different variables, factors and considerations into account, waste management is an issue best assessed and addressed on a local and individual level (rather than applying the same general solutions to all places)
How it’s assessed and addressed depends on key factors such as:
– What indicator is being measured, and what waste management outcomes (or goals) are being prioritized by a city or town (such as economic priorities vs sustainability based priorities)
– The local factors and conditions relevant to the waste management strategy and operations in each city or town e.g. what waste management options are currently available there, the systems, technology and equipment the sites/facilities use (impacts what waste can be processed, and how), what the local economy is like, and so on
– The individual type of waste being managed
Therefore, each type of waste in each geographic location may need it’s own waste management assessment of what waste management strategy is best.
The pros and cons of each waste management method for each type of waste in each location might be weighed up. There will be tradeoffs for sending waste to each different waste management option.
Using Different Waste Management Options Alongside Each Other
It’s possible to use the main waste management options, like landfill, recycling, incineration and composting, alongside each other
One options doesn’t necessarily have to be used at the expense of, or elimination of another.
Each one may serve a different function for different types of waste, and they may complement each other in different ways.
The waste profile of a city or town, and factors like their existing infrastructure, their budget, and their short, medium and long term waste management strategy, might play a role in what waste management options they use, and in what proportion.
For example, recycling may be used in a greater proportion of waste management compared to landfill and incineration where a city’s waste profile shows that more recyclable waste is being generated (and where they have the means and capability to use recycling facilities)
What Is The Best Way To Manage Waste?
The best way to manage waste depends on the desired goals and outcomes for waste management, and also from what perspective the question is looked at.
For example, looking at the answer from a practical perspective would involve looking at practical factors, such as how waste is currently being managed across society in reality.
But, we could also look at the answer from a sustainability and environmental perspective, and consider what waste management options might lead to less negative environmental impact, and also contribute to sustainability indicators such as sustainable management of resources.
Practical Considerations For Managing Waste
If we are to consider what is practical, we might acknowledge how waste management infrastructure and systems are currently set up and operating, and also consider practical challenges and limitations in trying to modify these systems.
Looking at how waste management currently works in reality across most of the world, landfill is the most common waste management method being used right now.
There are some exceptions to this in some cities and towns, with San Francisco being one example of a city with higher than average recycling and composting rates, but they appear to be the exception right now.
And, it’s possible recycling, incineration and composting rates may increase in the future (with more waste may be diverted from landfill), but, different cities and towns will have various practical and financial challenges and limitations in changing their waste management systems either over time, or at all.
Sustainability & Environmental Considerations For Managing Waste
From a sustainability and environmental perspective, the waste hierarchy is one concept that has been developed to understand how waste might be managed in a more sustainable way.
A summary of the options in the waste hierarchy, from most desirable or sustainable, to least desirable or sustainable, are:
However, the waste hierarchy is a concept only.
Individual types of waste might have better or more sustainable ways of waste management than what the waste hierarchy indicates.
In the waste hierarchy guide, we gave two potential examples of this (i.e. replacing an energy inefficient washing machine over repairing it, and, incineration possibly being better for some carrier bags than recycling)
Additionally, there may be waste management options and methods outside of what is listed on the waste hierarchy that are sustainable or eco friendly in different ways.
Other potential approaches or concepts to waste management can include concepts like ‘Zero Waste’, however, zero waste has it’s own pros and cons to consider
A List Of Variables, Factors & Considerations That Might Impact The Way Waste Is Managed
There are many variables, factors, and considerations (such as challenges and limitations) that might impact how waste is managed within an overall waste management strategy.
Some of the main variables, factors and considerations might include:
– Each City Or Town Has Different Local Factors & Variables To Consider
Every city or town has different existing waste management infrastructure and systems in place (such as the curbside waste collection programs in place, and the facilities in operation and the technology, equipment and processes they use)
Different cities/towns also have different budgets and financial capacity/capability to implement changes to, or upgrade their waste management infrastructure and systems.
There’s many other variables that differ between each city or town, such as having different waste generation profiles (different shares of each type of waste that make up the overall waste footprint), different technical expertise (on how to set up and operate waste management systems), different local economies for recycling and recycled material, different political situations, and so on.
To use one example of how waste management can differ between geographic locations in the same country, San Francisco is an example of a city with a very high recycling/composting rate compared to landfill. But, both Chicago’s and New York’s waste management systems might be different than San Francisco’s.
To go one step further, some cities or towns in developing regions of the world might have little to no established waste management systems in place, or, have ineffective waste management options in operation, such as open dumping sites or uncontained landfills (which may present a number of problems for human health and environmental pollution)
– There’s Different Variations Of Each Waste Management Method, & Different Ways To Carry Each Of Them
Each waste management method/option might use different processes, technology, equipment, and ultimately have different capabilities (in terms of what waste can be processed, how efficiently, and so on) and a different impact.
Not all landfills accept the same waste, or, have the same ‘cells’ on-site.
Aerobic composting is different to anaerobic composting (and there’s also other types of composting to consider)
There’s different ways to use heat to burn or manage waste, and different incineration plants and waste-to-energy plants use different processes and use different technology to another another.
There’s different types and methods of recycling, and different recycling facilities use different processes, technology and equipment. There’s also single stream vs dual stream recycling to consider.
– Different Types Of Waste Require Different Types Of Waste Management
Different waste materials (like organic waste, plastic, glass, different metals, and so on) have different properties and traits that suit different types of waste management.
The same goes for recyclable vs non recyclable waste, compostable vs non-compostable waste, and other categories of waste.
Specifically with recyclable materials, some can be recycled over and over whilst some can only be recycled a limited number of times. Some are also valuable as a recycled material, whilst others don’t have a valuable end market.
Some metals might be an example of a material that can be recycled over and over, and also have a valuable end market. Metals and glass may also save energy when recycled, compared to using virgin material in new production
Some plastics on the other hand might only be able to be recycled a limited amount of times, and may have a lower recycled value (especially when oil prices drop and production becomes cheaper).
Some plastics can’t be recycled at all, or have very low recycling rates
Similar to some plastics, textiles can be in this same category of being too impractical or not economically feasible to recycle in some instances
For incineration, materials with good energy density/energy output, such as some plastics made from fossil fuel feedstock, may be suitable
For composting, organic waste and compostable waste might be sent here
For landfills, waste that isn’t suitable for recycling, incineration, or composting, may end up here
The type of waste also impacts what waste stream it goes to – municipal, commercial/industrial, specialized waste, hazardous waste, or another waste stream. There’s potentially hazardous or special waste types like spent nuclear fuel to consider, or different types of e-waste for example, that might require specific types of waste management.
Different products and items also contain waste materials, and these products and items have different designs that may impact how they can be managed as waste.
Overall, the individual type of waste can play a significant role in the best waste management method to use.
– Economic Factors
Cost, profit, subsidies, other related economic factors, and overall economic feasibility have to be considered with any individual waste management option, and with an overall waste management strategy
Local conditions, and local economics (market demand for recycling materials, for energy from waste, and other factors) can impact the economics of waste management in a town or city.
As examples, we previously discussed the potential profitability and economic feasibility of recycling in this guide, and the general economic factors that may impact the main waste management option in this guide
In some instances where the environmental or social benefits of an individual waste management option might be significant, a government may step in to introduce taxes, fees and subsidies as forms of support. But, these measures ultimately need to be factored into the net economic profit or loss for that waste management option.
Without taxes, subsidies and other public incentives, some reports indicate that some incineration plants in some cities currently don’t turn a profit. The same may be true of some other waste management options in other cities.
Additionally, any added service such as an added waste stream to municipal curbside waste collection (such as an added recycling bin, or added bin for a specialized type of waste), incurs extra resources and costs, and this needs to be taken into account and weighed against the benefits. This is the case with single stream vs multi stream recycling, and managing glass waste. Some cities choose to outsource some types of waste management, like battery recycling, or textile recycling, to private organisations with individual drop off locations.
– Ability To Collect Data, & Track Different Waste Management Options
In order to have information on how different waste management methods are performing, there has to be collection of data on performance, and adequate performance tracking in place.
These things can not only be hard to implement and maintain, but also costly in terms of the resources required to do so
– Different Social, Economic, Environmental & Practical Needs, Desires & Outcomes
Different cities and towns might have different needs, desires and outcomes for their waste management systems and strategies across different environmental, economic, social and practical indicators.
This might change how each waste management strategy is formulated and implemented in each geographic location.
Different decisions and priorities come with different tradeoffs.
Some of the things that might be considered in a waste management strategy might be:
Environment – energy usage, water usage, global warming potential/GHG emissions, air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, resource depletion, impact on animals and wildlife
Human – human health and safety, social and cultural preferences
Economic – cost, profit, fees, taxes and subsidies, job creation, value to the economy, how efficient each option is, local economics, and so on
Practical – physical limitations and challenges
– Future Developments In Society, Technology & Waste Management
In the future, we might consider the role and impact Artificial Intelligence technology and systems can play in more sustainably managing waste
1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ Guides