What are the Different Types of Waste Management Solutions?

Emma G.

Businesses, hospitals, and individuals create thousands of tons of waste every day. This waste pollutes the land and water and can cause health problems in humans and animals if not managed effectively. Waste management solutions attempt to reduce the negative effects of waste. Common waste management solutions include collecting waste in dumps and landfills, recycling, and decreasing overall waste production.

Waste is often transported to a landfill.
Waste is often transported to a landfill.

The oldest waste management solutions, nearly as old as human civilization, were the waste heap or dump. People would collect their waste and dump it into a pit or simply make a pile. These piles often stank. Bacteria grew in them, causing disease that was spread by animals eating or living in the waste. They also caused environmental problems when rainwater runoff contaminated local water sources.

Recycling turns waste into reusable materials.
Recycling turns waste into reusable materials.

Over the years, landfills replaced dumps as the waste management solutions of choice. In landfills, the waste is compacted, and the resulting cubes are covered with layers of soil. This reduces smells and keeps animals away, as the garbage is not exposed to the air. It does nothing to protect the water table, however. Rain water can still carry dangerous chemicals and pathogens through the soil and into the drinking water, so the water seeping through the landfill must be collected and treated before it is released into the environment.

Burying waste in landfills is one of the most common waste management methods around the world.
Burying waste in landfills is one of the most common waste management methods around the world.

Despite the environmental problems, landfills are one of the most common waste management solutions. They do have some societal benefits. Land that is no longer in use as a landfill can be converted into public space, a park for instance. Governments from Israel to New York have taken this approach to reusing landfills that have reached capacity.

Biomedical waste is managed by incinerating or sterilizing the materials to kill bacteria.
Biomedical waste is managed by incinerating or sterilizing the materials to kill bacteria.

Recycling is another waste management solution. Instead of just being thrown away, waste is reused as much as possible. This results in less waste in the landfill because much of it has been diverted for reuse. It also means fewer raw materials are needed for manufacturing because they are being recycled from waste instead.

The drawback is that recycling can be time consuming and costly. Either home owners or transfer station employees must sort all the trash into categories. Glass is recycled using a different process than paper. A certain amount of technology is needed for the recycling process, making recycling too expensive for some regions to support.

All of these waste management solutions focus on waste that has already been created. Another strategy is to decrease the overall production of waste. That means encouraging people to use only what they need and not to throw as much away.

Sewage treatment plants clean waste water with special filtering chemicals.
Sewage treatment plants clean waste water with special filtering chemicals.

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Discussion Comments

parmnparsley

@GenevaMech- Most waste generated from the decommissioning of nuclear plants is considered to be low-level radioactive waste which can be dumped in certain facilities that accept medical nuclear waste. There are a number of these dumps across the country as well as some that are in the works.

GenevaMech

@aplenty- Last I heard, Yucca mountain has been scrapped. The cost of the project was supposed to be somewhere in the range of $100 billion dollars, which would pin about an extra billion dollars of waste management costs to each nuclear power plant in the country. From what I understand about the Yucca Mountain issue is that the facility would only have enough space to hold roughly half of the current nuclear waste that is sitting in storage at each nuclear facility.

It would not be able to handle the other half of the fuel or the waste generated from the decommissioning of the plants that will likely expire before the repository is built. In my opinion, better facilities need to be built, and nuclear waste needs to be reprocessed to reduce the amount of waste that needs to be stored.

aplenty

Are there any hazardous waste management solutions for nuclear waste? What happens to all of the radioactive leftovers form power generation, medical nuclear imagery, and other types of harmful radioactive wastes? Is Yucca Mountain still going to be a repository for this waste? What will happen when Yucca Mountain fills up?

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