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Stash the Trash: Ways to Improve Waste Management

written by: Envirowords•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 1/11/2010

Waste management prevents harm to human health and the environment by reducing the volume and hazardous character of residential and industrial waste. Improving proper waste management will reduce pollution, recycle useful materials and create more green energy.

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    Waste Management

    Waste management is a process by which our garbage is stored, treated, transported and disposed. Household waste is managed differently than industrial waste, however, the goals are the same. Waste must be stored to prevent releases before it is transported; waste must be treated to reduce its volume and hazards; waste must be transported safely and quickly to prevent hazardous releases and waste must be disposed in properly designed landfills.

    Waste hazards can include those that have toxicity and flammability as well as chemical characteristics that render the waste harmful to the environment and/or humans if not management properly. Proper waste management improvements will ensure that garbage does not ruin our waterways, public drinking water systems, agricultural lands or residential areas.

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    Residential Waste

    Residential garbage falls within the general solid waste category and is easier to manage than industrial waste, however, household hazardous wastes like paints and special cleaning solvents must be taken to specially designated locations for disposal. Electronics, like computers, and batteries that contain lead, are also considered hazardous and should not be disposed in garbage collected at your curb. Check with your town to find suitable drop off locations that can handle this type of residential hazardous waste.

    Other good waste management principles promote curbside recycling and bulk item hauling. This segregation of materials reduces waste volumes before being disposed into landfills.

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    Industrial Waste

    Industrial waste is generated through factory processes and large-scale farming operations. Some industrial processes create benign wastes that can be disposed into regular solid waste landfills. Some waste byproducts are toxic and need to be managed differently. There are several types of technologies available to prevent waste pollutants from entering air and water. Implementation costs can be prohibitive but making improvements to waste management often is an efficient way to cut costs in other areas.

    Methane gas is a good example. It is generated as organic matter decomposes in an anaerobic environment which exists in municipal landfills and farm animal manure ponds. Methane can be a problematic pollutant. It is a greenhouse gas but is also the major component of natural gas fuel. Improved waste management fosters anaerobic environments that promote naturally occurring microbes to decompose organic material and create the gas which can then be captured and used to power a natural gas turbine to generate electricity. Waste can be converted into green energy. Municipal landfills can be retrofitted to run natural gas turbines and large scale agricultural operations can transfer their manure wastes to specially designed power plants that have bioreactors in which the manure is processed to create methane.

    According to Attorney General, Douglas Gansler, Maryland is developing a new power plant specially designed to convert problematic chicken coop waste into methane gas which will generate 450 KWh of electricity. This waste management improvement keeps pollutants from getting into the Chesapeake Bay, which in turns protects Maryland's fishery, wetlands and other important natural resources.

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    Waste Management Technologies

    Waste management technologies basically remove pollutants from waste material. Sophisticated membrane filters are one type of technology that can be used to keep water clean. Scrubbers can be used to clean air. One other improvement to waste management is the recycling of metals from appliances and automobiles which can be smelted and converted into other products to reduce waste volume and prevent hazardous chemicals like lead, arsenic, and mercury from entering landfills. Newly designed incinerators are taking this concept further. Excessively high temperatures incinerate waste to reduce volumes, air scrubbers clean out harmful gas emissions, like greenhouse gases, and the resulting harmful contaminants, like metals, are smelted into glass-like sheets that can be sold as building materials.

    The same principal can be applied to any material that can be stripped from a larger source and reused, like electronic parts revealing the importance of innovative technologies that rely on reducing, recycling and reusing waste.