Issues and Challenges

From Waste to Greater Resource Productivity

Waste is a common terminology that is usually a collection of unwanted materials to be dumped and disposed off to a landfill away from the premises of its production. This waste at the producer end varies in different sectors, organizations, and households. Therefore, it is usually categorized into three subdivisions: solid, liquid, and gaseous. Liquid and gaseous wastes are usually recycled and utilized through various strategies like purification, eco-friendly plantations, secondary chain utilizations, etc., however, solid waste disposal is commonly limited to incineration, landfills, size reductions, and screens. 

The global counts of waste production estimate it to be 4 billion tons of which 1 billion is utilized, 600 million is recycled that includes plastic, ferrous scrap, non-ferrous scrap, and paper. Also 200 million of the waste is reutilized for energy generation. As far as Pakistan is concerned, 30-50% of the waste out of an approximate daily waste generation value of 54,000 tons is either not collected, is burnt producing poisonous gases or left in open environment. This results in contamination along with polluted atmosphere leading to incidence of raised human health risks. The common solid waste contaminants of Pakistan include metal, paper, plastic, rubber, animal waste, food waste, grass, leaves, textile waste, glass, bones, stones, etc. On the basis of physical compositions of waste production from major cities of Pakistan, Karachi has been recorded to be one of the major contributors of solid wastes.
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in one of its reports on the environment under the title: Wastes: What are the trends in wastes and their effects on human health and the environment? emphasized the importance of waste management, and enlisted wastes on the basis of harmful effects like hazardous wastes, chemical wastes, and municipal solid waste landfills. The extent of human concerns on it depends on the compound’s ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity present in waste, and how it is managed. Therefore, such serious concerns should not be neglected at any level be it household, organization, regulation, or government, as waste production according to EPA is largely dependent on economic activity, consumption, and population growth.
In this regard the term ‘Zero Waste’ was first introduced by Paul Palmer from USA in 1970s after which this concept continued to grow and became a key principle of waste management. According to a research study laid by University of South Australia, zero waste means designing, managing products, and processes systematically to avoid and eliminate the waste materials, and to conserve and recover all resources from waste streams.
Waste management through landfill disposal was a linear economic approach, which has been considered outdated by developed countries, and they are rapidly moving towards zero waste management approaches called circular economic systems. But this linear disposal approach is still practiced in some developing and underdeveloped countries including Pakistan. Currently, Karachi having two major landfill sites has become insufficient for catering all the solid waste being produced. Calculations and statistics record that approximately 9,000 tons of solid waste used to be generated in Karachi daily and the number has increased to 14,000/16,000 tons per day due to rapid growth of population and economic activity. Due to a lack of financial and technical resources it has become difficult for the municipal authorities to manage the waste. Moreover, the adverse effect of landfills has become a serious global concern. These diverse problems of linear landfill waste management include: acres of land deprived from development, insufficient landfills availability for increased waste production, emission of landfills’ toxic and combustible gases as dumped waste compost process proceeds in open air, soil and water contamination in case of landfill leachate formation during rains, and serious health concerns, etc. Therefore, in the world of science and research, strategies are being formulated and measures are being taken to implement zero waste management so that authorities could contribute to economic regeneration and help cut down financial setback. Under this umbrella, action plans for zero waste cities (ZWC) are being proposed leading to urban development. One of the recent case studies in China titled: “Approaches and Policies to Promote Zero-Waste City Construction: China’s Practices and Lessons” emphasized five crucial approaches, which successfully impacted zero waste management in China. These approaches were solid waste reduction throughout the industrial chain, collaborative treatment of classified municipal solid waste (MSW), efficient utilization of agricultural waste, safety control of hazardous waste flow, and optimization of market mechanisms.
Furthermore, a review on sustainable waste management strategies for effective energy utilization in Oman suggested another possible plot for waste management. The review summarized the waste management hierarchy of Oman that is rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle, recovery, and disposal. It further proposed effective waste-to-energy (WTE) process primarily aimed for sustainable waste conversion strategy into useful energy. This could easily cut off the imported fuel costs for energy generation. The authors elaborated that WTE process involves production of energy from combustion of nonrecyclable residual waste in the form of electricity or steam. This strategy helps in clean energy production, mitigation of gases, and climate change effects because methane is not produced in this process, unlike in landfills. The modern facilities used in WTE are designed to regain the value in waste after recycling by recovering clean energy, they even have air pollution control devices that help in decreasing the emissions.
Looking towards the deplorable waste management practices adopted in our country, it is high time that we work on our waste management strategies. Due to increased rate of urbanization, waste management will become more and more difficult to deal with. The first and the foremost need is that each and every citizen from the household to authority should be aware enough to understand the responsibility of waste disposal in correct manner. This could only be possible if we change our mindsets. The existing rules, priorities, and policies should be upgraded and imposed by the official caretakers of legislation. Implicative improvisation plans should be emphasized, for instance, waste management rules, development of environmental performance indicators, circular waste management approaches, guidelines for sound waste collection, reuse, recycle, and disposals, development of eco-friendly landfills, etc. A serious thought and a responsible initiative at individual and organizational level can transform Pakistan, specifically Karachi to a healthier, zero waste city with economic prosperity in the future. HH

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