PEOPLE use wide a range of goods for their livelihood, comfort and amenities. The use or consumption pattern of goods varies because of changes in the way of life, predominantly contributed by economic development, technological diversity and population growth. The goods that people use for sustenance are discarded as they reach the end of their use. Waste management comes at play in protect the environment to manage the discarded goods.
The goods that people use can be divided into two principal categories: solid and liquid. Different streams of wastes originate from these two categories. Streams of wastes like perishable household wastes, construction and demolition wastes, electronic and electrical wastes, rubber, metal, glass, plastic, hazardous medical wastes, etc originate from the solid waste category. Industrial effluent, grey water, black water, paints, chemicals, etc fall in the category of liquid waste. Wastes in each of these categories and streams have the potential to damage every fabric of the environment. To prevent any harmful effects, each waste stream is handled in different ways.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by United Nations Member States in 2015 provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which are an urgent call for action by all countries, developed and developing, in a global partnership. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth — all the while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.
The common purpose and objective of both waste management and Agenda 2030 are to protect the environment for human benefits. The goals that the Agenda 2030 adopted for a sustainable development involve a range of functions and activities. Those functions and activities are also found in waste management. The 3R — reduce, reuse and recycle — approach in waste management is recognised globally. It encompasses a series of activities with contribution to the environment and society. For example, reuse activities create jobs, save energy, cut disposal costs, reduce the use of virgin raw materials, reduce CO2 emission, extend life of landfill and reduce pressure on land.
Waste management value addition
Goal 1 has the target to ‘end poverty in all its form everywhere’ through the development of social protection systems with targeted measures to reduce vulnerability to disasters and to address specific underserved geographic areas within each country. Waste management prevents the emission of greenhouse gases such as methane, chlorofluorocarbon, CO2, etc which improves environmental degradation narrowing down the risk of human vulnerability to natural disaster. Waste management also prevents the pollution of water, another area of human vulnerability.
Goal 2 eyes ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture. Food security is a global concern against the backdrop of the population growth and shrinking agricultural land which include cropland, forest, mangrove forest, river, lake, tea estate and salt span etc. Countries are losing agricultural land every year because of population settlement, infrastructure development, industrialisation, etc.
Food loss and waste annually contribute to 3.3 gigagrams of CO2 equivalent. If a fourth of the food loss or wastes across the globe could be avoided, it could feed 750 million people. Food loss and waste affect the food supply chain, lowering income for food producers and wholesalers, increase consumer cost for food and constrain the access of low income groups to food. Minimising food loss, which waste management compliments, can improve food security and environmental gains.
Goal 3 ensures healthy lives and promotes well-being for all in all stages. In Bangladesh, there is a large informal recycling sector in different streams of wastes. The glass recycling sector recycles about 180,000 tonnes of discarded container glasses every year. According to industry sources, the economic value of this quantity of discarded glasses at waste pickers’ level is estimated at Tk 180 million, with the aggregate sales rate of Tk 1 a kilogram. The value of glass recyclables at the wholesaler level is estimated at Tk 450 million, with the aggregate sales rate of Tk 2.50 a kilogram. It is estimated that annually about 96,000 tonnes of plastic waste is recycled across the country. This plastic waste has Tk 288 million in economic value at the waste picker level. Recycling has created employment for thousands of people which gives them an earning.
Goal 6 ensures an available and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Leachate percolating from decomposing waste goes into surface and ground water systems, if not protected. Given the composition and character, municipal solid waste can contain 20–50 per cent of water which it releases as it decomposes. Leachates, if not treated, contaminate ground and surface water. Besides leachate, millions of litres of black water and industry effluents from households and factories are also released into the environment. These are elements of a potential contamination of surface and ground water and it happens quietly. For example, one gallon of paint can contaminate 10 million gallons of drinking water. Waste management requires the treatment of all liquid wastes before being discharged into the environment. This requirement has a direct contribution to ‘sustainable management of water and sanitation’. There are instances that large water body such as rivers, lakes, etc get ruined when ‘waste management’ does not work.
Goal 7 ensures access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Waste treatment technology producing biogas and power from waste provide multiple benefits. First, it reduces waste volume, mitigating pressure on land for waste disposal which can contribute to food security. Second, the residual of biogas can be converted into compost to use as soil stabiliser. Biogas from organic wastes or furnace oil from tyre recycling can be used as additional fuel in waste-to-energy plant where waste has low calorific value. Residuals in waste-to-energy plant, ie bottom ash, can be converted into slag and slag can be used in cement industry to produce bricks, slabs, etc, which can be used in construction works such as the preparation of road base, footpath, etc. The reuse of glass items from cullet consumes 40 per cent less energy than making new glasses from virgin raw materials on the grounds because cullet dissolves at a much lower temperature. Producing plastic products from recycled plastics reduces energy requirements by 66 per cent. Around 900 litres of oil, a person’s two months’ water use and two people’s energy consumption for a year, can be saved by recycling just one tonne of plastic wastes.
Goal 9 aims at building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation. Waste management through the promotion of the reduction approach encourages industries to produce less waste in the production process where innovation is the key. Industry to sustain in the long term needs to have in-house waste management like effluent treatment plants to treat liquid wastes. Through the reuse approach, waste management promotes an extended use of product and also alternative use through recycling.
Goal 11 makes cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Human settlements in cities and towns cannot be safe with heaps of garbage on their front yard or backyard. Waste management through community activities can involve people to do their part of waste management for a safer living environment.
As countries develop, more urbanisation takes place and construction and demolition waste, a harmful component of waste stream, is on the rise. Generally, the largest part of construction and demolition material is concrete, which encompasses around 70 per cent of waste generated before recycling. There is a range of environmental and economic benefits in recycling concrete rather than dumping it in a landfill.
The benefits include cheaper source of aggregate, reduction in landfill space required for concrete debris, using recycled material as gravel that reduces the need for gravel mining and, increasingly, high-grade aggregate for road construction is available only at greater distances, increasing the associated economic and environmental cost impacts associated with the longer haulage distances versus using recycled aggregate.
Goal 12 targets a sustainable consumption and production pattern. Sustainable consumption and production is about the use of products and manufacturing process of products that will produce minimal waste, which invokes the 3R approach of waste management. The 3R approach minimises resource consumption in the level sufficient for basic need, which is the reduce component, use goods and materials until they can be repaired or fixed to perform its function recurrently, which is the reuse component, and reprocess the materials being discarded into new products, which is the recycle component. This approach increases resource efficiency, contributing to sustainable consumption and production. For example, it takes 1.5 tonnes of water, 22 kilograms of chemicals and 243 litres of fossil fuel to produce one computer. An extended use of a product can reduce the consumption of water, chemical and fossil fuel and also reduce waste generation. Its overall impact comes on environmental improvement.
Goal 13 encourages urgent action to combat climate change and its impact. As decay starts, waste emits methane, a greenhouse gas, impacting climate change. The emission of methane is visible in landfill during the dry season. Methane is also a cause of fire in the landfill. As waste burns, CO2 is generated. CO2 is another greenhouse gas. The contribution of the 3R approach to mitigating climate change is found in waste, energy, transport, industry, agriculture and land use change and forestry sectors. In the waste sector, methane emission is reduced by gas recovery in the landfill. Energy recovered from waste reduces emissions from fossil fuel. Reduction in food loss and waste is an action in the agricultural sector to combat climate change. Food loss and waste represent the wastage of resources, including the land, water, labour, and energy resource used to produce food. It strongly contributes to climate change because greenhouse gases are emitted during food production and distribution activities, and methane is released during the decay of food waste.
Goal 14 conserves and sustainably uses the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Goal 6, 12 and 14 are interlinked. An uneconomical consumption of materials in production and irresponsible discharge of waste combined with absence of waste management has not ensured the availability and sustainable management of water bodies like the River Buriganga, the River Turag and the River Balu. An irresponsible discharge of plastics in the world oceans threaten marine lives.
Goal 15 protects, restores and promotes the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manages forests, combats desertification and halts and reverses land degradation and halts biodiversity loss. Activities embedded and innovations in the 3R approach have all potentials to address the issues stated in Goal 15 on Agenda 2030.
The SDGs are for public good to improve different facets of environmental sustainability. Goals are attached to human well-being and environmental improvement through a series of activities. A wide range of activities in waste management are naturally aligned with the SDGs. An improved waste management directly complements the achievement of the SDG. While 11 of the 17 goals get direct contribution, 6 receives indirect support from waste management.
Commodore (retired) Mohammad Abdur Razzak is a former chief waste management officer at Dhaka North City Corporation.
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