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Solid waste, also called trash or garbage, commonly refers to domestic waste. Waste generated from households includes food scraps, paper, newspaper, clothes, packaging, cans, bottles, grass clippings, furniture, paints, batteries, and more. In developing countries, it is often contaminated by hospital waste, industrial waste, and other hazardous waste. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines waste as “something which the owner no longer wants at a given place and time, and which has no current perceived value.” According to P.R. White, waste often contains the same materials found in useful products; it only differs in its lack of value.
Solid waste is also the term used internationally to describe nonliquid waste materials arising from domestic, trade, commercial, industrial, agricultural and mining activities, and from public services. Solid waste comprises countless different materials: Dust, food, packaging, clothing and furnishings, garden waste, agricultural waste, industrial waste, and hazardous and radioactive waste, to name a few. Municipal solid waste includes wastes that result from municipal functions and services such as street waste, dead animals, and abandoned vehicles. In waste management practice, however, the term is applied in a wider sense to incorporate domestic wastes, institutional wastes, and commercial wastes that arise in an urban area.
The quantity of waste generated depends on the socioeconomic conditions, cultural habits of the people, urban structure, density of population, extent of commercial activity, and degree of salvaging at source. Some of the factors that contribute to an increase in solid waste generation are growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), rise in disposable incomes, and a structural change in the pattern of production. The kind of waste generated and, hence, the way it should be handled changes with modernization and urbanization. People in rural areas tend to generate different kinds of waste; there is always an increase in paper and plastic and a decrease in ash and earth content in waste as a society urbanizes. Another difference between developed societies and developing countries is the difference in the amount of organic waste generated. Developed countries relying more on packaged and canned food have shifted organic waste production from domestic to industrial sources (where the food is packaged or canned).
Poor solid waste management, especially uncontrolled dumping, can cause health problems and environmental problems such as pollution of surface and groundwater from leachate production. If waste is not managed properly, unhygienic conditions put people at risk of acquiring infections of the skin and of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts. Poor waste management or accumulated garbage can trigger epidemics of foodborne infections. Uncovered and mismanaged waste attracts flies, mosquitoes, and rodents, leading to the spread of vectorborne diseases. Health hazards can be caused by the presence of human excreta, hospital and clinical waste (including medicines, syringes and infected human parts), and hazardous waste from small-scale industries. Therefore, appropriate solutions-minimization at source and appropriate disposal, whether through recycling, reuse, composting, incineration, or disposal at landfill-are necessary.
Integrated waste management is one of the recommended ways to handle waste effectively. It is a complex, multi-stage process that covers generation, collection, storage, transportation, and disposal of waste from beginning to end. Effective waste management involves all stakeholders, including the communities that generate the waste. Changes in policies or methods usually require changes in people’s behavior; therefore, municipalities are finding ways to involve communities in coming up with innovative ways of dealing with the challenges of increased waste generation.
A solid waste management system should not only ensure human health and safety, but it should also be both environmentally and economically suitable. To be environmentally sustainable it must reduce the environmental impacts of waste, including energy consumption; pollution of land, air, and water; and loss of amenities as much as possible. To be economically sustainable, waste management options should be such that the cost is acceptable to the community, including private citizens, businesses, and government.
Environmental and economic objectives cannot always be achieved at the same time, and a balance, called the Best Practicable Environmental Option, often needs to be struck to minimize the overall environmental impacts of the waste within an acceptable level of cost.
- V.I. Grover, S.G. McRae, W. Hogland, and K. Guha, Solid Waste Management (Oxford and IBH Ltd., Delhi, 2000);
- R. Holmes, ed., Managing Solid Wastes in Developing Countries (John Wiley & Sons, 1984);
- Suess and J.W. Huismans, “Management of Hazardous Waste,” European Series (v.14, 1983);
- G. T chobalogious, Theisen, and S.A. Vigil, Integrated Solid Waste Management (McGraw-Hill, 1993);
- P.R. White, Franke, and P. Hindle, Integrated Solid Waste Management: Lifecycle Inventory (Blackie Academic & Professional, Glasgow, Chapman and Hall, 1995).