How Human Waste is Managed and Disposed of

Author: Zero Waste Volunteers

Waste management In the simplest terms, can be defined as the collection, transportation, and disposal of the waste materials of human society. The term waste is typically applied to solid waste, sewage (wastewater), hazardous waste, and electronic waste. Waste is classified by source and composition. Broadly speaking, waste materials are either liquid or solid in form, and their components may be hazardous or inert in their effects on health and the environment. The process of waste management involves treating these solid and liquid waste. During the treatment, it also offers a variety of solutions for recycling items that aren’t categorised as trash

According to Wikipedia, “Waste management or Waste disposal is all the activities and actions required to manage waste from its inception to its final disposal. This includes amongst other things, collection, transport, treatment and disposal of waste together with monitoring and regulation. It also encompasses that legal and regulatory framework that relates to waste management that relates to waste management encompassing guidance on recycling etc.”

Methods of Waste management

  • Landfills- This is the most commonly practiced form of waste disposal. Here the waste is thrown on a daily basis to the nearby landfills. When such land gets filled with waste, it is usually buried there itself. Management of these landfills is an important aspect of waste management. Some of the major reasons for landfills are agricultural waste, industrial waste, solid waste, construction waste, over population and urbanization. These landfills have drastic effects on the economy. The major negative effects of landfills are it causes land and air pollution, contaminates ground water and cause serious health problems like respiratory disorders, lung cancer and so on. Combustion of landfills worsens the matter that further increases the pollution rate.
  • Plasma gasification- It is a process by which organic matter is fruitfully converted into electricity and gas. The plant has a gasifier which has hot gases from the plasma torch. This comes in contact with all the organic waste and heated at a temperature of 3000 degree Fahrenheit. Due to this extreme temperature the raw materials gets converted into synthetic gas or syngas. This gas mainly consists of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This gas is further sent to turbines that are rotated to produce electricity. Due to the extremely high temperature, even the hazardous waste gets converted easily. The major attraction of this process is that it does not produce any green house gases during the process.
  • Incineration- It is another term used instead of combustion. Here the solid waste is burned and they are converted into gas and residue form. This is mainly done in landfills to considerably reduce the volume of waste. This process is called combustion. In incineration, the solid waste is converted into gas and residue with the help of incinerators. This type of combustion is common in most of the developing countries.
  • Recycling- Recycling is a process by which waste or discarded substances are reused or recycled to make a new product through various processes. The two variants of recycling are upcycling that is adding value to the item that is to be recycled and downcycling that is breaking down of the product that is to be recycled. The major advantages of recycling are- it protects the environment; a lot of energy is saved in the process, it is Eco-friendly, protects the biodiversity, reduces pollution, the resources are protected, it is cost effective and reduces waste considerably.
  • Recover energy- Recover energy is commonly known as waste to energy or (WtE). This is a process of converting the substances that cannot be recycled or non recyclable waste to heat, electricity or other fuels. This comes under the category of renewable resource even though it comes from non recyclable materials. This can reduce the emission of carbon considerably. The use of fossil fuels to create energy can be minimized. This is a new concept in waste management.
  • Minimize waste- Minimizing of waste is the easiest way to reduce waste. This can be effective if more recycled products are used like bags, bottles and so on. Plastics should be avoided completely and Eco- friendly bags should be promoted.

Benefits of Waste management

Effective waste management is an asset to the economy. A lot of environmental problems like water pollution, air pollution, land pollution, emission of green house gases can be reduced a great extend. It can help mitigate the influence of external stressors (e.g., economic and population growth) on waste management, and contribute to numerous benefits, including:

  • Human health- Waste management can help improve air quality (e.g., by reducing open garbage burning) and water quality (e.g., by managing leachate from open dumps and landfills), and reduce the spread of disease (e.g., by improving pest management).
  • Climate change and the environment- A major benefit of the waste management is the mitigation of emissions of short- lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) that have a warming influence on the climate, including methane from landfills and black carbon from open burning. In addition, management of waste reduces the environmental impacts that result from poor waste management practices (e.g., land degradation from dump sites and landfills).
  • The economy- Waste management can be one of the most expensive aspects of local government operations. It can help reduce costly inefficiencies (e.g., overconsumption of waste collection vehicle fuel), encourage the development of new markets (e.g., for energy and compost), and lead to job creation.
  • Social benefits- Waste management results in other benefits to society, including reducing bad odours and improving the quality of life for marginalised groups, such as the informal recycling sector (i.e., “pickers”).

Waste Management in India

Urban India generates 62 million tonnes of waste (MSW) annually, and it has been predicted that this will reach 165 million tonnes in 2030. 43 million tonnes of municipal solid waste is collected annually, out of which 31 million is dumped in landfill sites and just 11.9 million is treated. There is not enough public bins, and the available bins are not even covered and, in many cases, waste overflows out of those bins and ends up going all over the streets. Waste transporting vehicles are not even covered and, in many cases, waste overflows out of those bins and ends up going all over the streets. Many citizens in India recklessly litter the streets too. Probably, they only littered the streets with banana leaves or bowls made of dried leaves a few years earlier, those kinds of litters were not that harmful as they were biodegradable and could even be eaten by stray animals. But in India today, what is mostly littered is plastic and in any society, it’s not easy to bring a quick cultural change.

India’s informal recycling sector that consists of waste pickers play a crucial role in segregating and recycling waste, but in most cases they are not formally trained at times they burn wastes at landfills to keep themselves warm at night and end up setting landfill fires that cause air pollution, and because of inadequate gear, they are also exposed to diseases and injuries.

Things can change in India if Indians can adopt the practice of segregating waste in their homes, stop dumping mixed waste and stop littering. It is heart breaking to know that there are villages in India where plastic can enter, but it can never leave. Even though many cities and states have discouraged the use of plastic shopping bags, plastic still enters the remote isolated villages in form of chips packets, water bottles, etc. in those areas there is no mechanism to recycle or collect plastic trash, there is no service by the administration whatsoever to collect trash from these villages. As a result, many villages just innocently burn it or dump it in the open.

India needs to spend a lot of money to create an effective waste management infrastructure but a clean India will be able to earn more by attracting more tourists. A clean India will also save more in its public health care and also it will save money by avoiding those city floods which happen in monsoon due to drains that are choked by plastic. Moreover, new jobs will be created and people will start looking at waste as an opportunity to create wealth. In relatively small patches, many streets and districts in India are well maintained and clean too, but these success stories are not enough. India needs a lot more of them and it needs them urgently.