Thursday, September 8, 2011

Solid Waste Management

  In a developing country, the problems associated with solid waste management are more acute than in a developed country (Zerboc 2003). Lack of financial resources and infrastructure to deal with solid waste creates a vicious cycle; lack of resources leads to low quality of service provision which leads to fewer people willing to pay for said services, which in turn further erodes the resource base and so on (Kuniyal et al. 1998; Zerboc, 2003). The problem is further complicated by rapid growth in population and urbanization, which adds greatly to the volume of waste being generated and to the demand for waste retrieval service in municipal areas. However, more often than not, an increase in population is not matched with an equal increase in revenue for the local municipalities for waste management (Zerboc 2003). Besides this, rapid urbanization means rapid growth of shanty dwelling units that are largely unplanned for, and add to the waste, health, and hygiene problems.

Another significant factor that contributes to the problem of solid wastes in a developing country scenario is the lack of proper collection and transportation facilities. Improper planning coupled with rapid growth of population and urbanization serves to add congestion in streets, and as a result the waste collection vehicles cannot reach such places, thus allowing filth to build up over time. Lack of monetary resources, at times, results in improper or no transportation vehicles for waste disposal adding another dimension to the ever rising cycle of problems (Jain 1994; Zerboc 2003).
In any developing country, the threats posed by improper handling and disposal of solid wastes (though often ignored) contribute to the high level of 2 mortality and morbidity (Medina 2002). Human and ecosystem health is also threatened due to improper handling of solid wastes.

In addition to all the problems mentioned above, mountainous regions in developing countries face additional challenges in solid waste management, in terms of their highly fragile environment and difficult terrain. The problems associated with solid waste in the mountainous region have serious cascading effects on the lower valley. Often solid waste is the number one threat to the fragile ecology of the mountainous environment (Jain 1994). Besides this, seasonal tourist inflow adds significantly to the demands on resource base and contributes considerably to the amount of wastes generated. Lack of proper regulations fails to encapsulate the waste generated by the tourists and fees to be paid there of (Jain 1994; Kuniyal et al. 1998; Cole and Sinclair 2002).

World Health Organization (WHO), Chang et al. (2001) recognized seven different ways, through which pollutants can transport back to affect human health.
Waste → soil → human.
Waste → soil → plant → human.
 Waste → soil → plant → animal →human.
Waste → soil → atmosphere → human.
 Waste → soil → surface runoff → surface water → human.
Waste → soil → vadose zone → groundwater → human.
Waste → soil → animal → human, waste → soil → airborne particulate→ human
Source: Chang et al. (2001) (for details visit

The most serious impediment for a sustainable solid waste management is that, there is a wide range of individuals, groups and organizations that are involved with waste as service users, service providers, intermediaries and/or regulators (Zerboc 2002). The interests, agendas and roles of these actors form a complicated web, which defines and designs the prevalent waste management system in any developing nation (Sudhir et al 1997). Collection and disposal of refuse within an urban area has been traditionally perceived as the responsibility of the local municipal government (formal public sector). However, in a developing country scenario the provision of waste management system by the local government is generally inadequate, centralized, top-down and in most cases inefficient (Cointreau 1982). Following which, many developing nations have a dynamic informal sector that has evolved around wastes, which supports the livelihood of a large number of the urban poor. The most common occupations are informal refuse collection and scavenging, which are undertaken by unemployed, women, children, recent migrants, etc for their sustenance and livelihood (Median 2002). The informal sector consists of many “actors” such as waste-pickers, itinerant-buyers, small scrap dealers, and wholesalers (refer figure 2.3). In India, the informal sector is attributed with recycling about 10–15% of the solid waste generated in the cities (Sudhir et al 1997). Though a formal private sector (private companies dealing with all aspects of waste management) is emerging strongly in many developing countries, however, it is yet to be an alternative to the current formal public sector. In many cases it has been seen that private sectors are generally motivated by the idea of profit maximization; the poorer section of the society in many developing countries lack the financial resources to subscribe to the services provided by private waste management companies (Sudhir et al.1997). The interactions between these formal and informal sectors design the existing waste management system in most of the developing countries.

Reusing relates to the recovery of items to be used again. Reusing ensures reduction in raw material consumption saves energy and water, reduces pollution and prevents the generation of waste. Medina (2003) regards reuse of materials and products as more socially desirable than recycling the same materials. For instance, in India, soft-drinks (Coke, Pepsi etc) are sold in glass bottles and a deposit-refund system operates. A person deposits some amount of money on purchase of the soft drink, which he/she gets back on depositing the bottle, thus enabling the producer to regulate his supply of container without having to produce new ones. Products, such as office furniture and appliances, can also be reused. For instance Manitoba Hydro donated their old office furniture and building waste to Manitoba eco-network, which was used to build a new office for the network; thus saving both time and valuable resources for both Manitoba Hydro and Eco-network. A reuse program not only saves money, it also can be a source of revenue for the companies/households that implement it. The best example would be Interface, which reuses old carpets to produce new ones, thus saving valuable resources and promoting sustainability at the same time. Public policies that provide incentives for businesses and individuals to engage in reuse can have a significant and positive economic and environmental impact (Sudhir et al. 1997, Medina 2002, Zerboc 2003). In a developing country framework, it is to be noted that due to poor economic conditions, repairing and

Although recycling is one of the most important aspects of waste management in the developed nations, due to the composition of waste and other factors, recycling may not be much of an option in terms of developing country. Separation of waste materials at the household level is perhaps a universal phenomenon; more so in developing countries where separation of anything valuable is undertaken with care, which prevents valuables and reusable materials from being discarded. The existence of waste pickers, scavengers etc, recover other valuable materials from entering the waste stream. Especially in developing countries, itinerant buyers play a vital role in recovering materials for recycling, they buy every material that has some monetary value, news papers, plastic bottles, old shoes etc (Zerboc 2003). It is however, evident that some improvement in these traditional systems can be brought about. A formalized waste recycling or recovery system supported by local municipality can go a long way in ensuring health safety for the workers, chances of better income for the rag pickers, scavengers and small time merchants dealing with waste (Zerboc 2003). Recycling waste can be a viable economic option even for some urban cities, where the nature and characteristics of waste is quite similar to the developed nations. In case of waste composition not favoring recycling, other options (recovery, diversion etc.) should be seriously considered. In the event that local municipal governments are unable to provide recycling facility due to lack of funds, private partnerships need to be encouraged and looked into as a viable option (Sudhir et al 1997, Medina 2002, Zerboc 2003).

For a developing country, looking into the waste composition and other socio-economic factors, the best form of waste reduction would be composting. It is a basic low-technology approach. Theoretically the waste of many developing nations would be ideal for reduction through composting, since it contains higher composition of organic material than industrialized countries. Hoornweg, et al (1999) calculated that on an average, urban centers in developing countries have 50% organic content in their waste stream. Early studies conducted by Cointreau (1982), found 78-81% compostable materials in the household waste generated in major cities of Indonesia and Srilanka (Bandung and Colombo respectively). In a more recent study conducted by Zurbrugg (2003) found that major Asian cities like, Hanoi, Karachi, Katmandu and many Indian cities has 68-82% compostable waste content (refer Table -2); however, it is ironic that composting is not widely practiced in the developing countries (Zerboc 2003).

The advantages of composting are numerous; it reduces the amount of waste significantly. It can be used as fertilizer and natural manure for agricultural uses, it also reduces the release of landfill gas emissions considerably and since it is a natural process, it reduces the damage to environment. Besides this, the foul stench covering any waste dump site is basically generated due to the rotting of organic waste, which will be controlled to a great extent if we go for composting instead of allowing the waste to rot (Sudhir et al 1997, Medina 2002, Zerboc 2003). Zerboc (2003) notes that composting can be undertaken in three levels: Household, community and large scale centralized level (throughout the municipality). Unfortunately, large scale operations have been a dismal failure; owing to huge amount of investment required, need to keep the equipments in working conditions etc.

(This are extracts from my Lecturer's thesis).