Waste management: from waste to resource

recycling bins

Pollution

Why is waste management important? Waste is one key factor of pollution. What is pollution? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as follows: the action of polluting especially by environmental contamination with man-made waste.

Pollution can cover an array of domains such as air, water, and land.

Obviously, different factors can cause pollution with dire consequences on marine life, humans, wildlife, the climate, etc.

Basically, pollution can be compared to slowly filling your yard with trash. In the beginning it might seem barely noticeable. As time passes the trash pile grows. It affects your view, becomes cumbersome and smells. It then attracts pests, which may carry diseases and pass them on to you. And the list goes on and on.

The question is, how can I reduce my impact on the ecosystem, on myself and on others? This is important in order to sustain a friendly and healthy environment. No need to worry.

This article and the next one will focus on two types of pollution, which we will qualify as visible and invisible.  The visible we will identify as waste and the invisible as carbon emissions.

As previously discussed, we want to eliminate single-use items and opt for reusable bags. Before buying something we can ask ourselves, ‘Do I really need it?’ Another way to reduce waste is to donate things we do not want or need anymore to another person or to entities that recycle such items. Thrift stores are a good option. Exchange books with friends. Repair your electronics rather than buy new ones. Shop in stores that offer produce without packaging. Buy fresh produce rather than processed food.

The advantages of smart waste management

Some cities collect organic waste, which can be used to make compost for local farmers or biogas for energy production.  

smart waste management strategy

Sustainability consultants can help by providing advice for smart waste reduction and management. As we have seen, waste by-products could be useful. Compost, biogas and heat recovery are examples of waste by-products. The amount of heat that could be recovery from grey water or municipal waste can be evaluated by energy consultants. Here are a few advantages of implementing a smart waste reduction and management:

  • reducing waste collection and management costs
  • sustaining a healthy and safe environment
  • being part of a macrosystem by offering waste by-products that are useful to local businesses

Nature around us is a gift that tells us a story of the power of working together in a macrosystem. Usually species work in symbiosis. No doubt you remember the picture a whale coming to a cleaning station. The whale opens its mouth and cleaner fish come to eat dead skin, parasites, etc. We can surely learn by working with nature and simply using it in a sustainable way.

Here is an example of how humans have been inspired by nature to reduce their ecological footprint:

The specialized feeding behaviour of cleaner fish has become a valuable resource in salmon aquaculture in Atlantic CanadaScotlandIceland and Norway[10] for the prevention of sea lice outbreaks[2], which benefits the economy and the environment by minimizing the use of chemical delousing agents.

Here is what the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) had to say on municipal waste management in the US.

The total generation of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2018 was 292.4 million tons (U.S. short tons, unless specified) or 4.9 pounds per person per day. Of the MSW generated, approximately 69 million tons was recycled and 25 million tons was composted. Together, almost 94 million tons of MSW was recycled and composted, equivalent to a 32.1 percent recycling and composting rate. An additional 17.7 million tons of food was managed by other methods. Other food management includes the following management pathways: animal feed, bio-based materials/biochemical processing, co-digestion/anaerobic digestion, donation, land application and sewer/wastewater treatment.

Join the challenge

Waste reduction could be encouraged at the municipal level by taxing either the residents or businesses according to the amount of waste generated. It is noteworthy that grocery stores in a lot of areas are to be commended for removing single-use plastics from their daily operations. Employees can be encouraged to reduce their waste by providing monthly feedback of how much waste they produced as a group. This could be coupled with a reward system.  Sustainability consultants could help you with waste accounting and zero-waste reward system/challenge.

When an item needs to go to the trash, that’s ok. Before throwing something out, ask yourself, ‘Can it go to the recycling bin?’ Such small changes can contribute to waste reduction in a big way. The same is true with composting.

The next article will briefly cover a type of pollution that’s less visible in some cases.

We hope you enjoyed this article. Please stay tuned for more. If you have a project in mind and would like us to help, feel free to reach out to us.

Ecovision Team

References:

National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling | US EPA

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