Waste Management – Segregation at Source
Waste management involves collecting, segregating and disposing waste in an environmental friendly way. Waste management is a serious issue that governments and municipal corporations face on a day to day basis. Dumping of waste in landfills and other open areas can cause serious health hazards like methane emissions and contamination of groundwater systems. Many aquatic and terrestrial animals die due to plastic bag litter consumption. As a known fact, it causes air, water and soil pollution. If done in a proper manner, waste management can lead to a better quality of life, thereby dwindling health risks to the public.
A major challenge in waste management is the right segregation of materials. Segregation at source is essential for an efficient waste handling and a high recycling rate. Imagine if materials like plastic, food waste, paper and electronics were mixed or placed in the wrong recycling bins! It can undoubtedly lead to major contamination and hence, becomes onerous to recycle. For example, a grave source of contamination is plastic bags carrying organic waste placed in recycling bins. These bags get entangled during the recycling process and operators are compelled to stop the processing and extract the plastic or any other forms of contaminants. The recycling centres therefore, spend a significant amount of time in separating the recyclables from the non-recyclable ones, which is a duty that the people disposing the waste at the outset must conform to.
Waste generated can be categorized into domestic waste, industrial waste, biomedical waste, agricultural waste, animal waste, nuclear waste, mineral waste and electronic waste. Waste management primarily includes minimizing waste generation. Consumers should be mindful of the amount of material they use which can act as a check on the amount of waste produced. Although recycling and composting play a crucial role in how we manage waste, generating less waste offers the greatest environmental benefit of all. Public cooperation has a direct influence on the system of waste management. Thus, raising social awareness is key and it has definitely made some progress, but there is still a long way to go. In addition to educating consumers about the principles of correct recycling, government should invest in technology and training within the collection and processing operations. The usage of environmental friendly products and decreasing the usage of paper, plastic, etc. is essential.
Frederick A Talbot, in his book ‘Millions from Waste’, identifies waste as “merely raw material in the wrong place”. If we aim to convert waste into resource, we need to segregate waste into wet and dry matter. The wet waste can be directly collected and taken to a recycling centre to be converted into organic fertilizer. It is good to keep in mind that organic waste should not be wrapped in plastic as this tends to impede their composting process. Ideally, there should be three bins for waste collection. One of these could be utilized for wet waste which is usually biodegradable. This waste may include vegetable or fruit peels, fish or meat waste or any waste from the garden. A second bin can be used for collecting dry waste like plastic wrappers, cans, bottles, food packets or containers which are rinsed. A third one should be for bio-medical waste such as sanitary napkins, syringes, diapers or bandages. Medical waste must be wrapped in paper and marked with a red cross. In addition to this, electronic waste or e-waste like mobile phones, batteries, cables, remotes, watches, bulbs should not be mixed with the dry waste. They can be stored separately and sent for recycling periodically.
India is currently facing enormous challenges in terms of waste disposal. Waste is piling up due to illegal dumping and the garbage collection process has been inadequate. Proper waste segregation has many advantages. It allows customized treatment methods for different waste streams. It also reduces the pollution rate and the environmental impact and increases the cost efficiency of waste treatment. Some communities and corporations have enforced that waste is segregated at the source itself before collection. Recycling bins are provided for organic waste, recyclable plastic, paper waste and residual waste which may include sanitary waste, rubber and electronic waste. Many cities have banned the use of plastic, which means they cannot be used to line waste bins. It is equally advised that even biodegradable plastic should not be used for the same as it is chemically identical to regular plastic. Hence organic waste should not be wrapped in plastic bags, as this will contaminate and impede the composting process.
The generation of waste may be considered as an inefficiency of the production process. Any product or process that produces waste that cannot be easily recycled, should be restricted. Consumers should make a conscious decision to purchase items that generate less waste. Cloth carry bags should be encouraged for purchasing groceries. Shops can be fined if found to use plastic bags. If waste generated is less, the expenses on waste disposal can also be minimized which will eventually benefit households as well as businesses. The fundamental principles of waste management – reduce, reuse and recycle – should be followed to manage waste better and prevent waste generation. We need to rethink our habits, our needs and basic requirements and refuse anything that is harmful for our environment. Some items can be repaired and reused, maximising its use to the fullest. Books, clothes, plastic products can be shared or reprocessed into new and useful products.
As aforementioned, raising awareness in the society is fundamental in segregating at source, but additional technologies and mechanical equipment is also necessary to sort the waste after its collection. This ensures a higher recycling rate and end disposal. A lot of people get confused about the complex segregation system and refuse to segregate at all. They are not sure where they have to put which kind of waste exactly. Also, for some, it is more convenient to just use one bin. Behavioural changes happen very slowly, hence governments and corporations need to step up their efforts in organizing clean up and public awareness campaigns. With the current rate of population growth and waste generation, policy makers should develop more effective strategies to implement sustainable solid waste management systems and effective segregation at source.