Tracks and Solutions for Sustainable Waste Management

Waste Management

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Today’s, waste treatment is difficult and expensive and has negative consequences for the environment.

Besides, natural resources are becoming scarce. Each waste contains raw materials and has consumed resources (energy and water) during its life cycle. Incinerating waste or disposing of it for landfill means, therefore, wasting those raw materials and resources.

We must, therefore, go beyond the simple treatment of waste by incineration or landfill that aims only to reduce their volume. We must deal with the problem of waste at the base and avoid their appearance. For that, we must adopt sustainable waste management.

This means that an object does not become waste and thus allow the raw materials of which this object is composed to continue to serve humanity. At the same time, we save the resources needed for waste treatment (energy, water) and we reduce the pollution that results from this treatment.

Sustainable Waste Management:

First, try to prevent the production of waste. If this is not possible, we try to reuse the materials, then recycle them, to value them. Only, as a last resort, the waste is eliminated.

STEP (I): Preventing Waste

Prevention prevents the appearance of waste at the base. It goes through two key ideas:

First, it encourages us to question our real needs. We can avoid or reduce unnecessary consumption and thus consume fewer raw materials and produce less waste. The consumption of plastic bottles can be reduced by drinking tap water from the canteen, taking a flask, or using returnable bottles.

Next, prevention aims to prevent a product from becoming waste. We can buy better quality products that will be used longer, avoid the purchase of disposable products, avoid replacing products that still work very well just because they are out of fashion.

Waste prevention, therefore, involves a change in our habits and consumption choices. Here are some examples:
  • Reduce Packaging: In Belgium, more than 30% of the weight (and 50% of the volume) of our bin is made of packaging. To reduce this amount, we can buy food in bulk, choose large packs, avoid individual doses, choose refills, and cook fresh products instead of buying prepared meals.
  • Ban Disposable Items: In recent years, disposable plastic items have spread everywhere under the pretext that they are more practical. But sustainable alternatives exist. We can use a reusable basket or bag to do our shopping, use a water bottle filled with tap water for drinking or a sandwich box to pack our snacks. Why not organize a “sustainable” party or picnic with dishes, cutlery, and reusable cups, and tablecloths.
  • Avoid Food Waste: Throws between 15 and 20 kg of food a year that has not been consumed (often still in their original packaging!). Predicting a shopping list, managing your fridge well and accommodating leftovers can reduce this amount of food wasted.
  • Rent Rather Than Buy: We often buy items that we rarely use while we can rent them. This last solution is cheaper and it’s better for the planet! Media libraries, libraries and games libraries offer a wide choice of media (DVD, CD, PC games, language methods), books and games to borrow. Some DIY or gardening stores rent tools. The leasing of office equipment (photocopiers, etc.) is an increasingly common practice.
  • Dematerialize: It means using services rather than objects. We can offer a place of cinema or theater rather than a DVD, a subscription to the toy library rather than a game.
  • Composting Organic Waste: Green waste and kitchen waste (grass clippings, peelings, coffee grounds, leftover food, etc.) are biodegradable, i.e. they can be broken down by living organisms. By composting them in the garden, we turn them into potting soil instead of making waste.

STEP (II): Reuse the Objects

Reuse means giving a second life to objects that are no longer used. Reuse consists of recovering a product at the end of its life and using it for the same purpose or different use.

There are two types of reuse:

  • Reuse means reusing an object for the same purpose for which it was designed. We can buy a second-hand garment rather than new, exchange clothes, books, DVDs, etc. with friends or organize a stock exchange, use bottles, and returnable packaging …
  • Recovery means finding a new use for objects. We can use a shoebox as a storage box, turn an old tin into a lamp post.

STEP (III): Recycling Materials

Recycling consists of valuing the raw materials that are contained in the waste, recovering them and reintroducing them into the production cycle of a product.

It has four major advantages:

  • Reduces the amount of waste that will be dumped or incinerated.
  • Reduces the environmental and human nuisances, those related to incineration and landfill.
  • It Saves raw materials since recycled materials are used instead of new raw materials that should have been extracted or manufactured.
  • Saves resources (water, energy) that would be used during the extraction of new raw materials and the manufacture of products.
There are many recycling techniques for different materials. Here are the most common examples:

The steel of cans of drinks and cans can remold and reintegrated into the manufacture of new cans and cans, industrial cans, packaging for cosmetics and cleaning products, car parts, and household appliances.

The wood fiber contained in waste paper and cardboard can reuse in the production of recycled paper, cardboard, newspapers, magazines, toilet paper, etc.

PET contained in plastic bottles and flasks finds outlets in the textile sector (as padding for coats, mattresses, and sleeping bags or as fleece) or transform into new bottles and flasks, food or industrial films, pots, etc.

HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) contained in plastic bottles and flasks allows the production of cans, storage bins, crates, shelves, bins, containers, pipes, cable sheathing, windings, pallets, tubes, pipes, etc.

The pulp of beverage cartons is used for the manufacture of household paper, industrial paper towels, paper bags, egg cartons, envelopes, etc.

Recycling waste is a good solution, but recycling has several disadvantages:

First, only a portion of our waste can be recycled (such as metal, paper, glass, etc.). Many other materials are currently not recyclable or their recycling is very expensive from energy or economic point of view (as is the case with yogurt pots).

Recycling often requires a supply of new materials. The higher the final technical quality of a product, the higher the intake of new materials. To recycle paper fibers, for example, 46% of the new fiber is needed to make newsprint and 14% for corrugated board.

Once the products from recycling reach the end of their life, we cannot recycle to infinity. Paper fibers can be reused two to five times, depending on the type of paper to be produced. Each treatment decreases the quality of the fibers.

One can only, rarely, recycle an object into a product of value or equivalent quality. Generally, recycled materials are therefore depreciated. We are talking about downcycling. For example, recycled PVC window frames cannot be converted into new window frames, but are used to make less valuable products such as industrial bins, pipes or bins.

Despite the great technological advances of recent years to extend recycling to new materials and to make it more profitable, progress still needs to be made. It is for these reasons that recycling is only in third place on the scale of sustainable waste management after prevention and reuse.

To properly recycle the different types of waste, they must be sorted according to the materials of which they are composed and forwarded to the different recycling centers. For this, we must set up a powerful system of sorting and collection of waste.

STEP (IV): Recovering Waste

Biological Recovery:

A large part of our waste is composed of organic materials (kitchen waste and green waste). The biological treatment makes it possible to value them.

Organic waste from household waste (kitchen waste) is treated in a biogas plant, known as a digester, where it is degraded by microorganisms. The methane (also called biogas) that is released during this process has been harvested and possible to use as fuel (some buses now work with methane).

Green waste from gardening and maintenance of green areas in composting centers and transform into natural fertilizer for vegetable gardens and gardens.

Energy Recovery:

The part of the waste that cannot be recycled, composted or transformed into methane is incinerated. By burning waste, incinerators produce heat. Today, we equip turbines incinerators that convert this heat into electricity. This electricity is used to operate the incinerator or resold to the distribution network. In these cases, we talk about the energy recovery of waste.

STEP (V): Definitive Elimination

Waste that is not recycled or otherwise recovered is deposited in a landfill. This is the least sustainable solution because – besides the fact that it has many disadvantages for the environment and human health – it does not reduce the amount of waste. The waste that is thus buried remains. What will people think of in 1000 years when they will fall on our buried garbage, digging in what, for them, will be a beautiful green hill?

The Main Principles of the Walloon Waste Management Plan:

Give priority to prevention to reduce the production of waste. Promote the recycling and recoveries of waste produced and advocate the selective collection of waste. Apply selective collection to fight against the “all in the trash”, empowering the private sector by imposing a general obligation to take back the waste it generates (packaging, appliances).

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