Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) consists of all discarded materials from the general population of a municipality. This can include everything from plastic containers, broken dishes, leftovers, yard waste and everything in between so, as you can imagine, finding a single cookie-cutter solution to manage and treat all the different possibilities of waste is out of the question.
For a municipality to develop a sound Waste Management Plan, they must first gain an understanding of the composition of their municipalities waste. The only way to do this is to develop a Waste Audit Report of their region by diving in, getting messy and finding the percentages of what the waste streams are composed of.
After the data regarding the areas waste streams has been collected, it’s much easier to formulate a plan to tackle the management of the waste as it will become apparent which streams make up the majority. Then it’s just a matter of deciding the most efficient way to implement the plan; luckily the EPA has a rule of thumb called the “Waste Hierarchy” that shows the most-preferred to least-preferred management options for MSW.
The single most effective way to reduce the amount of waste generated by a municipality. By tackling the issue at the source, you can effectively eliminate the waste from appearing in your waste streams.
By promoting options that reduce waste like reusable coffee cups, or Tupperware containers for lunches instead of paper bags, you take the waste completely out of the stream, without the need for further treatment or options. Another preferred option is to reuse the product, much like propane cylinders simply and large water cooler jugs can be collected, treated and reused.
Creating and manufacturing products and packaging is an incredibly energy-intensive process, from the extraction of necessary materials, to the production itself. By recycling discarded wastes, you can create new products with the recoverable materials in the old ones.
This reduces the amount of raw materials that need to be collected and stops the product from ending up the municipality’s landfill. Food and yard waste are a huge problem for landfills as they count for a large portion of the volume of a municipality’s waste stream.
Also, they emit harmful greenhouse gases during the decomposition process. This is why there is a huge push for municipalities to have some form of composting method that starts with an organic collection program. The benefits of a composting program are reduced landfill space required for organics, reduced greenhouse gas emissions from decomposition and increased soil health by the reintroduction of nutrients present in the waste.
The end product of composting is a high-quality fertilizer than can be used within the municipality or sold off to residents to use on private properties.
Another option for treating MSW are waste-to-energy facilities, including incinerators and anaerobic digesters. In many parts of the sustainable community, incinerators have a bad reputation. This is because incinerators burn all sorts of waste and were typically emitting large volumes of harmful gases into the atmosphere. But as times have changed, so has the technology, which has allowed incineration to become a relatively clean energy in comparison to other generation methods.
One of the primary emissions given off through incineration is CO2. By having a CO2 capture system in place within the incinerator, this gas can be collected and used in energy generation. Also, the heat given off during the incineration process is often used to boil large quantities of water, and the vapour harnessed to power steam generators.
Incineration can reduce the volume of wastes by approximately 96%, depending on the type of materials, so while it’s not 100% efficient, the amount of waste remaining needed to be landfilled is minuscule in comparison. Anaerobic digesters are a mixture of composting and gas collection systems present in incinerators.
Large vats of organics are allowed to decompose in a vacuum resulting in the production of methane gas, which is then captured and used in energy generatio
The worst possible option, the last resort for municipalities. Landfilling wastes is simply dumping the waste into large holes and covering it up. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong. Landfills are a huge drain on municipality’s resource, requiring large areas of land, many facility operators, significant investments in equipment and strictly monitored laws and regulations.
As previously mentioned, landfills emit greenhouse gases from the decomposition of materials found within, but it also has a high risk of contaminating the watershed of the area. Think of all the different types of waste generated even just in your household such as food products, cleaning materials, paint cans, old appliances and electronics, batteries, the list can go on and on. When these products are landfilled, all the liquids and decomposable components of the waste seeps into the soil.
The word for this is leachate. Leachate is a disgusting, smelly, highly toxic liquid soup of contamination, and gravity is slowly pulling this downwards towards the watershed. This is a huge health and environmental concern, the last thing you want is leachate in your well-water, or to end up draining into local bodies of water.
While many landfills do a good job at controlling leachate end emissions through capture systems, it is still more resources and trouble than is necessary when options such as recycling and source reduction are available.
As you can see, there are many different components and moving parts associated with a municipalities waste management plan. But by having a plan in place to handle the large quantities of varying compositions of wastes generated a municipality should be able to manage it effectively. The more processes and options you have in place to effectively and responsibly dispose of wastes, the more likely outdated and harmful options like landfilling will become part of the past.
Do your part by investigating your cities waste management plan and participating and promoting the options available to make your city a better, cleaner place to live.