The bitter reality of our time is that waste control and management are still ideal thoughts. However, people like Bea Johnson – environmental activist, author and motivational speaker – and her family already cracked the basic way to manage waste at the household level as far back as 2008. The simplest strategy of waste management has been laid out since 2013, i.e., the 5R waste management plan: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. Since then, more terms have been added to this plan, in fact the number count of ‘R’ has also increased but the rule of thumb that still revolves around the basic 5R plan should be understood and definitely followed at individual, organizational, national, and international levels.
Refuse primarily means ‘to reject’ which is very clear in its meaning, i.e., rejecting those materials that are non-recyclable or non-reusable or non-degradable. At the household level, for instance, people should refuse to carry their shopping in new plastic bags from each store and instead prefer using cloth bags that are reusable. Any item that is not needed, if given for free should also be refused at the consumer level. Supply and procurement chains are highly responsible at organizational level to provide targets and demand for their product development that are safe for health and environment and it should be foremost that the products are not single-use only.
Reduce means to cut down the not-so-necessary. This can be done by asking one’s self “Do I need it?” If the answer is “Yes” only then get it, otherwise not. At the organizational level, this can work by planning production in accordance with the need or demand of the consumers.
Reuse is also sometimes replaced with the word repurpose, because the two have only slight difference in meaning. Reuse is multiple times use of a material for the same purpose that it was primarily aimed for, while repurpose is to reuse for purposes other than it was primarily aimed for, like planting in bottles is repurposing, whereas refilling the bottles with the same liquid is reuse.
Recycle is the fourth strategy, which is not just a high-energy intensive process but is a process in which materials are down cycled into low quality products. Recycling is usually done for inorganic waste that is down cycled into new products but the catch is that it increases amount of waste, is hazardous for health and atmosphere, and as such the recycled materials are usually non-degradable, like plastic.
While the 5Rs primarily deal with non-degradable waste. The strategic waste management for organic waste is rot or compost. Turning your organic waste into useful compost is most likely the ultimate step in adopting zero waste living. It can be as simple as a backyard exercise of composting to an efficient mechanical execution under special controls at organizational or national levels. Anything that is degradable can be converted to beneficial compost if done properly, using correct processes and sorted organic material to be compostd.
Several techniques of composting that can be adopted based on the type of waste, under controlled conditions. These include, firstly, suitable ratio of carbon and nitrogen content present in the organic waste. Generally, it can be set with the idea of browns and greens. Greens have large amounts nitrogen, e.g., grass clippings, food scraps, and manure. Browns have large amounts of carbon with little amounts of nitrogen, e.g., dry leaves, wood chips, and branches. The next condition implies proper and periodic aeration of waste piles. Stuff like paper, cardboard, newspaper, dry leaves, scraps, etc., are used as fillers for proper aeration while performing a basic compost procedure. Aeration maintains the air flow and ventilation with optimized oxygen flow rate. This benefits microbes to remain alive and convert waste into compost. Other conditions include adequate level of moisture and temperature for available microbes to efficiently perform their job of natural composting. Usually, wet drippy waste mixtures are not preferred. Also, composting is done in sheltered spaces preventing exposure to extreme hot temperatures. Furthermore, particle size of waste also matters; the smaller the waste is sized the more uniform and homogeneous compost is prepared.
Types of composting include on-site composting, vermicomposting, aerated (turned) windrow composting, aerated static pile composting, in-vessel composting and trench composting. Amongst these, the household options of composting are vermicomposting and trench composting. Vermicomposting is the easiest and the simplest household composting technique and can be done using food scraps, paper, yard trimmings, such as grass and plants, but this can never be limited and new experimentation should always be done to expand the waste selection for vermicomposting. It can be carried out in closed but ventilated bins in which it is easy to tumble the waste pile. Approximate time for ready-to-use, high-quality cast through vermicomposting is 3 to 4 months, but can also take years. Such castings can be easily used as fertilizer mixed into pot soils as well as nourishing garden soils.
Aerated windrow composting and in-vessel composting is preferred for wastes like manure, protein wastes, fish skins, carcasses, animal wastes, etc. Compost prepared from animal manure is extremely beneficial for use in fields from the agriculture perspective. Composting Animal Manures: A guide to the process and management of animal manure compost, published by North Dakota Agriculture University details benefits, processes, and applications of compost prepared from animal manure. It highlighted among other things that impressive pest control was observed, there were no burns as use of fertilizer generally causes, pathogenic microbes in soil enriched with compost was not detected.
Composting not just improves soil fertility naturally, but compost beneficially holds water and conserves it into the soil. Due to compositing the waste volume is also decreased, landfill spaces are not left filled for years and above all, toxigenic and harmful gas emission, like that of methane gas, is prevented because composting, something that has always remained a serious concern in landfills. This also helps in reduction of surface ozone and prevents heat entrapment in the atmosphere. Therefore, it is important that people be made aware of the idea of composting. If incase people are unable to exercise composting at their homes, they should contact services that collect waste and compost it. Waste management agencies should implement speedy compost management by raising funds to strategize and implement a proper composting plan that can then move towards making it a means of generating income by selling finalized compost. This will greatly impact agri-economy, livelihood of farmers, purify environment by securing against the greenhouse effect and will also help cut waste, which will be a step to attain and sustain life in a healthier, breathable atmosphere.HH
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