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Development and the Environment

Waste Management
Seen Environmental Learning Information Sheet no 11
What is waste?
Waste is usually considered to be an item that is no longer wanted or no longer useful. Every day millions of waste items are thrown away from homes, schools, offices and factories. Waste can be anything from leaves and branches to plastic packaging, old newspapers and even cars. What one person thinks of as waste may be different from what another person thinks of as waste and this also changes over time and from country to country. What many people do not realize though is that most waste is produced BEFORE we buy anything. For example hundreds of tons of rock or surface material are removed to find the diamond that weighs a few grams in a ring. In addition more materials and large amounts of energy are often needed to recycle waste into reusable forms. This is shown in the waste hierarchy diagram above.

Collection and disposal


Waste is becoming more and more of a problem around the world as more people are moving to live in towns and cites. In many developing countries this means many people are living in overcrowded conditions and in informal settlements. Many of these settlements do not have adequate water supplies, sanitation or waste disposal facilities. In these conditions the issues of waste and waste management become very important for peoples health and wellbeing and for the maintenance of a clean environment. In most cities in developing countries the service that exist for waste disposal and collection are inadequate. In many places there are too few trucks to collect the waste or there is not enough money allocated for their maintenance. Money is an important consideration and the safe collection and disposal of urban solid waste is an expensive activity. When rubbish is not collected it not only causes visual pollution but can also lead to health problems. Piles of waste are a perfect habitat for rats and flies and along with these come germs. Many disease-carrying animals feed in the waste piles and these diseases can be passed onto humans and domesticated animals. Waste often ends up in drainage systems which get blocked or overflow. If these channels have been carrying human waste or are near the water supply many life threatening diseases such as cholera can spread very rapidly.

What is the problem?


Every living organism uses energy and creates waste. The waste that animals and plants create are generally things which break down easily. Things like old leaves and animal droppings are broken down by bacteria. Some of the waste that humans produce also decomposes easily. These are things like scraps from fruit or vegetables, wood chippings or tea bags. Waste that breaks naturally is called biodegradable. When waste cannot be broken down, or takes a very long time to break down, it can cause problems. This waste is called non-biodegradable. Plastic bags for example may take hundreds of years to break down.

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Information Sheet No 11

Theme: Development and the Environment Topic No 11: Waste Management


It is usually the poorest people who suffer most as a result of waste as they are living in the worst conditions, with the most overcrowding and least resources. Poorer people often live in informal housing that the local municipality may not even recognise as their responsibility. Refuse collection is expensive and the poorer municipalities usually have the least resources. build up of methane at landfill sites can be dangerous. Methane is also a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. At some landfill sites however the methane is being tapped and is being sold as fuel. Landfill sites are definitely not the solution to waste disposal. The only way to tackle the issue of the increasing amount of waste is well-planned waste management.

Where does the waste go?


In some places waste is dumped on an uncovered piece of land known as an open dump. These are very problematic as they often become breeding sites for rats and flies. People who work at or live by the dump often experience health problems caused by the germs which breed at the dumps. When it rains, the water carries the harmful chemicals and diseases from the dump and it contaminates the land and water surrounding the dump. Landfill sites are usually considered to be safer than open dumps. A landfill site is a hole in the ground which is filled with rubbish. Large earthmoving machinery is used to cover the rubbish with soil at the end of each day and the waste become more and more compacted. Since landfill sites are covered with soil every day there is usually no chance for rats or flies to breed and they are generally thought to be better options. There are also some problems with landfill sites as sometimes water mixed with hazardous waste leaks out of the landfill and gets into nearby soil or waterways. Sanitary landfill sites have been created where the landfill site is covered with a material which will not let the water out but even these are not risk free. Another problem is that the rate at which substances decompose in landfill sites varies greatly. Sometimes it is extremely low due to the fact that everything has been compacted so much and even items which are considered to be biodegradable have take longer than expected to rot. Methane can also be produced at landfill sites as the bacteria are working in conditions without oxygen. Methane burns very quickly and the

What are integrated waste management techniques?


This is the name given to an approach that uses a combination of waste management practices in order to handle solid waste. The three main approaches are attempts to reduce the amount of waste produced, to reuse products directly, and to recycle. These are accompanied by incineration with recovery of energy produced and landfilling as a last resort. The reality is that in many places land-filling and incineration happen with little effort being made to reduce, reuse or recycle. Incineration is when waste is burnt. Some recyclable materials may be removed before the waste is burnt and at some incinerators the heat generated by burning the waste is used to create electricity. There are environmental problems associated with incinerators. Burning rubbish produces air and water pollution and incinerators produce ash containing high concentrations of dangerous toxins. These toxins can cause cancer and are associated with other health problems. Incineration also wastes materials and energy where other methods are much more effective. If the same amount of money were spent on recycling and composting as is sent on incineration, governments would have a huge amount of additional capacity to deal with waste. Reduction is perhaps the most important stage in successful waste management. If there is a reduction in the amount of waste produced then the other stages will be much easier. Reduction isnt about managing waste but about managing natural resources carefully so that the amount of waste created is reduced.

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Information Sheet No 11

Theme: Development and the Environment Topic No 11: Waste Management


Reduction is the responsibility of everybody. Manufacturers can create products that use less packaging and contain fewer toxins. Consumer can buy products that are packaged in more durable, non-disposable containers which can be reused. Buying food in bulk and storing it in glass jars or other contains also helps reduce the amount of waste we produce. Recycling means that materials that have been thrown away can be processed and made into new products. Glass, paper, metal and organic waste can all be recycled. There are any advantages to recycling. It reduces the amount of solid waste that is thrown away and reduces the amount of natural resources needed. Less fuel is required to produce goods from recycled materials than for producing them new from the raw materials. For example it take 66% less energy to recycle paper than to make it from pulp. Recycling can also provide employment opportunities for people who collect the materials and who recycle them. Many people recycle as a way of making a living. They reclaim what has been considered as waste by other people and sell it. Some people ask people living in residential areas if they have anything that they want to get rid and other people sort through the refuse at dumpsites. Paper, scrap metal, plastics, glass and textiles all have uses and many can be sold on to businesses that make things out of reclaimed materials. Recycling however only takes place where there is an industrial demand for the materials and therefore an incentive for the waste to be recycled. This means that in most parts of the world only a small percentage of the potential recycling actually occurs. consumption( see Information Sheet on Consumption and Consumerism). Waste is a by-product of what we produce and consume. In Namibia for example more waste is produced by people with more money. Thats why bottles and tins are often found near to some rural teachers houses! The change in Namibia to non-returnable bottles has also created more waste, and the fact that few towns operate effective recycling schemes means that piles of glass and tins are a common and ugly site. To deal with this means getting to the core of the problem changing the way we produce and consume. Succeeding in this will involve cooperation between local government, private industry and members of the public. But who will co-ordinate this and who feels strongly enough about the issue to make it a priority? Efforts so far have focused on the role of individuals that we should all take responsibility for our own waste. But the real issue is to change the system we live in to move away from disposable items and unnecessary packaging. This means asking what makes up most of our waste and where is it coming from? Think for a minute about the most common types of waste glass bottles, tin cans and plastic bags. Why should it be only the consumers responsibility to dispose of these items? Does not the manufacturer have a responsibility too? Most of these items are not provided free by the producer, the cost of the bottle or the packaging is already in the price. We have paid for it and we are also being asked to pay to dispose of it. Surely it makes sense to suggest that this cost should be shared? Pressure from consumers can lead to positive results. In South Africa the supply of thin plastic bags has been banned. Consumers are being asked to bring their own re-usable bags. In Zimbabwe all drink bottles have a deposit on them and are returnable. The deposit is sufficiently high to encourage people to do this or for others to make a living out of their collection and return. In Namibia current practices will not change until we, the consumers demand it. Raising awareness and taking an

New approaches to waste management


Slowly but surely people are realising that the most effective way of dealing with waste is not only to involve local residents in the planning and management of refuse-collection schemes, but to get people and manufacturers to produce less in the first place. Achieving this means altering our views towards production and

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Information Sheet No 11

Theme: Development and the Environment Topic No 11: Waste Management


informed stand on waste issues, is a key role of education. with waste management. Educational activities in schools can help show children the benefits of reusing products and how items which maybe considered to be useless can actually be put to use in different ways.

What happens to waste in Namibia?


There are different ways of dealing with waste in different regions of Namibia. In the formal residential areas of Windhoek there is a wheeliebin system where bins are collected from peoples houses once a week and then the contents are taken to the general waste landfill site. There is also a hazardous waste landfill site which is specially designed to ensure that no hazardous substances can leak out from within. In the informal residential areas there is a collection of black bags provided by a private contractor twice a week. The collection and disposal of waste in the informal residential areas if often a problem as there are often very high densities of people living in these areas which means that more waste is generated. In some cases the informal living areas are not even recognised by the municipality and so no waste collection provisions are made for them. The law states that the municipality or the rural council must collect and dispose of all solid waste that is produced in their area. They usually make a charge for this and if people are unable to pay then no rubbish collection service is provided. Illegal dumping can then occur where people dump waste in an area which is not designed for disposing waste. This often occurs in open spaces, next to bars or shops, along roads and in areas where waste removal services are poor. Waste collection schemes exist in most towns across Namibia with refuse being collected once a week. In rural areas while people may be more conscious of what they throw away and what could be reused, the increasing use of plastic bags, bottles and cans causes environmental damage and poses health risks to people. At present there is no national recycling campaign as the facilities to recycle products do not exist. A few companies exist that collect cans, glass bottles, metal and paper for recycling in South Africa. More work needs to be done in order to raise awareness of the issues associated

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Information Sheet No 11

Theme: Development and the Environment Topic No 11: Waste Management Ideas to stress in your teaching and learning

Waste is any item that is no longer wanted or is useful. There are different types of waste: each causes different problems and should be disposed of in a different way Most waste is produced in the manufacture of goods. The most effective way to limit waste is to reduce what we use. Responsibility for waste needs to be shared between manufacturers and consumers. To change wasteful/harmful manufacturing practices, people need to demand change. Reducing, recycling and reusing are three ways we can limit our own waste. Few rural areas in Namibia have waste collection systems. Schools and communities should work together and develop their own strategies to reduce, collect and dispose of waste safely.

Glossary
Biodegradable Made of substances that will decay relatively quickly as a result of the action of bacteria, and breakdown into elements such as carbon that are recycled naturally. To breakdown organic matter from a complex from to a simpler one, mainly through the action of bacteria. An increase in the worlds temperatures, believed to be caused by the greenhouse effect and the depletion of the ozone layer. Gases such as carbon dioxide, ozone, or water vapour that contribute to the warming of the Earths atmosphere by reflecting radiation from the Earths surface. The natural conditions and environment in which a plant, animal or person lives. Relating to, derived from, or characteristic of living things. To process used or waste material so that it can be used again. Relating to the maintenance of public health and hygiene, especially the water supply and waste disposal system.

Decompose Global warming Greenhouse gas

Habitat Organic Recycle Sanitation

Sources/ Further Reading


Department of Economic Affairs, Environment and Tourism, SA (1997): Waste Resources pack Action magazine: A clean and beautiful environment (learners and teachers pages) City of Windhoek : Information Booklet on Solid Waste Management

Seen Environmental Learning

Information Sheet No 11