With reference to waste management, discuss the extent to which sustainability can be achieved
Waste management is all about the need to change our attitude to waste. The four methods of managing waste at the moment are: landfill, composting, recycling and energy recovery (incineration). To be sustainable, waste must be managed in a way that is maintainable for the foreseeable future and will not be hurtful to the environment or the population. Waste is a problem at the moment because the amount of waste we use is increasing and therefore so is toxicity along with the time that the rubbish is toxic for. We are also running out of landfill sites.
Therefore, another method of waste management must be found that will solve these problems. The most harmful way of dealing with waste is through sending it to landfill. This proves to take up huge spaces of land and is therefore extremely unsightly to individuals living close by. It is also a threat to groundwater and river quality as polluted substances can leak out of the landfill sites and find their way down into the ground or into nearby rivers and lakes. Another environmental impact is that decaying matter will produce methane gas, which is explosive and a greenhouse gas.
This decaying matter will take ages before it finally breaks down, producing a considerable amount of gas. For example, disposable nappies take 500 years before they break down. It is also extremely expensive; it costs ? 40million to dispose of 1 million nappies. The worst problem with landfill is also the amount of space that it takes u. In the UK we only have enough sites until 2015. This is why the government is looking for alternatives. However, EU legislation bound the UK to decrease the amount of waste it sent to landfill to 75% of the 1995 levels by 2010.
One place that relies heavily on landfill is Jakarta in Indonesia, home to 28 million people. 3000 men work as bin men, pulling the rubbish in a cart by hand. They live and work at the dump, with no sanitation or clean drinking water. Council lorries often do not take the rubbish is well and so it builds up in piles right next to their homes. This causes the presence of flies and rats and with no health and safety laws they are often without gloves, bare foot and without help if they are injured. Each man only receives 315 a day for 6 days a week, which is barely enough to pay the rent.
No one separates the recycling and so the bin men often do this themselves to try and earn some extra money. The landfill sites cause huge problems for the environment. Rivers are heavily polluted as 20% of rubbish ends up in the river. The one landfill site that is to the east of Jakarta was opened in 1986 and is home to 3000 people. Therefore, managing waste with landfill is definitely not sustainable, especially when it is not managed properly. The process of composting is the most environmentally friendly way of dealing with waste but it is one of the most difficult to operate.
Composting is when waste is converted into something that is easier to manage, such as fertiliser. It means that waste can be converted into a saleable product and so the process does partly pay for itself. However, it is extremely expensive on a large scale and requires huge amounts of resources and time to manage. There is a lot of benefits involved with composting, mostly on the land. This is why it is considered the most sustainable processes, as well as the fact that the waste is being used and therefore does not sit around taking up space.
One place where composting takes place is Slough in the UK. The nutrient-recovery facility takes waste water from the Slough Trading Estate and turns the phosphorous in it into crystalline fertiliser pellets. It is said that about 150 tonnes a year of fertiliser will be produced and sold on to farmers. The world’s affordable mineable reserves of phosphorous are set to run out in the next 20 to 30 years and so it provides a solution to this problem. However, although the composting process is environmentally sustainable, the huge costs mean that it is not easy to maintain.
For example, the reactor in Slough cost ? 2 million to build. Many places are looking to deal with their waste through recycling. This is where materials are converted so that they can be reused. This is the most effective way of dealing with waste as there are no by-products of this process as the material is simply reused. However, there are other problems. Recycling has hidden environmental costs, such as transport leading to pollution and hot water being used for the cleaning process. There are also high set up costs and low market value for products such as plastic.
The process also relies on individuals for it to operate and be able to separate their waste for themselves. In Singapore, the government set a target to be recycling 60% of its waste by 2012 and by 2008 they were well on their way to achieving this; recycling 56% of their waste. They achieved this through various mean, mainly by talking to companies and individuals about how they can help. They made voluntary agreements with the food and drinks industry about lowering their packaging. They asked residents to separate their rubbish, with waste being collected weekly and recyclable materials being collected separately.
They put initiatives in place for industrial and commercial waste and put charges in place for construction waste. All combustible waste is sent to an incinerator and electricity generator, which reduces the volume of waste by 90%. The remaining waste is sent to the Semakau landfill site, which is 2 small islands and 350 hectares of sea, enclosed by an impermeable membrane to prevent any leakage. Therefore, Shanghai is well on its way to being sustainable in its waste management. Relatively new method of waste management that a lot of people are looking to is incineration, where energy is recovered from the waste by burning it.
It means that less rubbish is sent to landfill, although there is a very small amount of material that cannot be burnt. Incineration can produce electricity or power through heating schemes. At the moment, there are 17 licensed municipal waste incinerators in the UK and emissions have fallen since 1990. However, incineration can be seen as having negative impacts. The process does release CO2 and other toxins which can be dangerous to health. The buildings are also often very unsightly and cause added traffic congestion as lorries deliver the waste and they are built on main roads.
There is currently a debate being carried out in Hertfordshire over whether an incineration plant should be built in Hatfield, on the New Barnfield site. Veolia Water plan to build this incinerator against the wishes of the residents of Hatfield and the villages of Welham Green and Colney Heath. Herts County Council argue that the incinerator is needed if we want to meet energy targets and reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, which is unsustainable. The incinerator would increase the recycling rate by 3% as it would sort the rubbish before burning it.
This means that half of all the rubbish taken to the site would be recycled and the remaining waste would be combusted, with the energy created by the steam being used to power 50,000 homes in Hertfordshire. The left over ash would be given to the construction industry to use as aggregate. Veolia claim that the building which will hold the incinerator will be designed to integrate into the local landscape and would contain odours and noise. On the opposite side however, the residents claim that there will be increased traffic, up to 172 lorries a day.
They are also worried about pollution being carried by the wind and the loss of rare newts which live on the site which will be built on. The incinerator will also be huge and unattractive and the site is located next to a school for children with special needs and a central resources library, which would have to be knocked down. Furthermore, although the facility will save Herts CC ? 31 million a year in landfill costs, it will cost them ? 220 million to build and ? 1. 3 billion to run. In conclusion, I believe that sustainability can be achieved as long as people are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve it.
A great example of this is composting. Composting would be an extremely sustainable way in which to manage our waste as long as the government is willing to spend the money to maintain it and residents are willing to put in the effort of separating their waste and composting themselves. Similarly with incineration, there will come a point in the future when it will become necessary to burn our waste if we want to carry on living sustainable and not use up all our land with landfill. Therefore, local people are going to have to be willing to make sacrifices in their area.
They will have to lose a few things but if we want to maintain our rubbish sustainably then we need to start building places in which we can do this. There are countries which are already leading the way to sustainable waste management. These places include Shanghai and Rio Cuarto in Argentina, where the government is working with the waste disposal workers to achieve a healthier and more efficient waste management scheme. To achieve sustainability in waste management, I believe that all four processes must be used and a healthy balance must be found between them.