Solid Waste Volume Reduction

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Solid waste volume reduction

Solid waste volume reduction can take place at several points in the waste management process. Solid waste volume reduction can take the form of precycling or reuse behavior on the part of consumers. This behavior reduces solid waste at the source and prevents materials from ever entering the waste stream . Precycling on the part of consumers is the best initial activity to reduce the volume of solid waste. Reuse is also a measure that prevents or delays the migration of materials to the landfill . Once the decision is made that a product is no longer useful and needs to be discarded, there are several management techniques that can be used.

Recycling diverts large volumes of materials from the waste stream to a manufacturing process. Glass, plastic, paper, cardboard, and other clean, source-separated materials are well-suited for use in the manufacture of new products. As markets become more readily available, the volume of materials that end up in landfills will be reduced even more. Such troublesome wastes as tires, appliances and construction debris are targets of serious recycling efforts because they are large-volume items, take up a lot of space in landfills, and do not provide good fuel for waste-to-energy facilities in their discarded state. Once recyclables have been separated from the waste stream, solid waste can be further reduced in volume through several methods.

Compaction of waste materials after source separation is useful for two reasons. Compaction prepares waste for efficient transport by truck, boat or rail car to landfills or other waste disposal facilities. Compacted waste takes up less space in a landfill, thereby extending the life of the landfill. In some cases, compacted waste can be stored for later disposal. It must be understood that the compaction of waste should only be done after all recyclables have been removed since this process contaminates post-consumer materials and makes it almost impossible to recover them for a manufacturing process.

Incineration has long been accepted as a waste volume reduction technique. The burning of solid waste can reduce the volume by 95%. In the early 1920s, incineration was used to reduce waste materials to what was thought of as a harmless ash. We now know that contaminants can become concentrated in the ash, qualifying it as a hazardous waste . It wasn't until the mid-1970s that waste-to-energy facilities using incineration were considered a viable option, as a consequence of the added benefit of energy supply. Most states now require that the residual ash from burning municipal solid waste be landfilled in a monofill. A monofill is a landfill compartment that can only be used for incinerator ash.

Composting is another volume reduction technique that can divert large volumes of waste material from the waste stream. Leaves, grass clippings and tree prunings can be reduced in volume through an active composting process both in the backyard and in municipal composting yards. Individual homeowners can compost in their back yards by using simple rounds of wire fencing placed in a shady, cool corner. The composting materials need to be managed through the addition of moisture, temperature monitoring, and frequent turning, until they become a rich soil for the garden. Municipal yards perform the same process on a much larger scale and then use the resulting soil in city parks or give it back to the homeowners for personal use. These solid waste volume reduction techniques for organics in the waste stream are simple and low cost and can be very effective.

Methods for encouraging solid waste volume reduction at the individual household level consist of various incentive programs. The most common technique is a system of volume-based user fees. With this method, homeowners are given free bags into which they can put anything that is designated by the city as a recyclable material. Distinctly different bags are sold at the local grocery store or city hall. These bags usually sell for somewhere between $2 and $5 a package and must be used for all materials destined for disposal. Homeowners who want to reduce their garbage disposal costs would try to reduce the number of purchased bags they need to use. They can do this through a concerted effort of solid waste volume reduction. Careful decisions at the supermarket to reduce packaging and single-use items, reuse of packaging and containers, careful source separation of recyclables, and composting of all organically based materials can reduce the volume of solid waste considerably and reduce the cost of garbage service. An even greater effort can be launched by dedicated individuals by taking used clothing to consignment shops or donating it to organizations for distribution to needy populations, taking clothes hangers back to cleaning establishments, and requesting that junk mail no longer be sent to their households. Of course, there is also the ongoing debate on using disposable diapers , which greatly add to the volume of the waste stream.

Businesses that contribute to the reduction of solid waste are those that have been set up to take back, repair, and reuse products and materials that would otherwise end up in the waste stream. Small appliance repair shops can recondition appliances and resell them. Businesses that repair wood pallets make a relatively new contribution to the effort to reduce the waste volume. Tires are being chipped for fuel in waste-to-energy incinerators, and are also being pulverized for use in soils for playing fields. All of these volume reduction techniques have a significant effect on how we live and how we do business. The goal of solid waste volume reduction is to view the waste stream as a resource to be "mined," leaving only those items behind that have truly outlived their usefulness.

See also Solid waste incineration; Yard waste

[Cynthia Fridgen ]



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Porter, J. W., and J. Z. Cannon. "Waste Minimization: Challenge for American Industry." Business Horizons 35 (March-April 1992): 469.