Introduction on Waste Management

April 27, 2014

Introduction - Auckland Waste

Solid Waste Management:
A Policy and Programme Matrix
Hari Srinivas

Most local governments and urban agencies have, time and again, identified solid waste as a major problem that has reached proportions requiring drastic measures. We can observe three key trends with respect to solid waste - increase in shear volume of waste generated by urban residents; change in the quality or make-up of waste generated; and the disposalmethod of waste collected, by land-fill, inceneration etc.

It is critical to adopt a broad approach in developing a working framework for solid waste management (SWM). This covers the social, economic, technology, political and administrative dimensions. For example the social dimension of SWM involves waste minimization; the economic dimension of SWM involves waste recycling; the technology dimension of SWM involves waste disposal; and the political and administrative dimensions cuts across all the three issues of minimization, recycling and disposal.

« ··· SOCIAL ··· » « ··· ECONOMIC ··· » « ··· TECHNOLOGY ··· »
« ··· ··· ··· ··· ··· ··· ··· POLITICAL ··· ··· ··· ··· ··· ··· ··· »
« ··· ··· ··· ··· ··· ··· ADMINISTRATIVE ··· ··· ··· ··· ··· ··· »

But SWM is not an isolated phenomena that can be easily compartmentalized and solved with innovative technology or engineering. It is particularly an urban issue that is closely related, directly or indirectly, to a number of issues such as urban lifestyles, resource consumption patterns, jobs and income levels, and other socio-economic and cultural issues. All these issues have to be brought together on a common platform in order to ensure a long-term solution to urban waste.

There is a whole culture of waste management that needs to be put in place - from the micro-level of household and neighbourhood to the macro levels of city, state and nation. The general assumtion is that SWM should be done at the city-level, and as a result, solutions tried out have been essentially end-of-pipe ('End-of-pipe' refers to finding solutions to a problem at the final stage of its cycle of causes and effects. In the case of urban waste, it means focussing on waste disposal rather than waste recycling or waste minimization). But this approach essentially misses the forest for the trees, in attempting piece-meal and ad hoc solutions to waste problems, instead of taking a long-term holistic approach.

In reality there are a number of critical actions the need to be taken at each of the levels of household, neighbourhood, city and nation. Action to be taken can have social, technology, economic, political or administrative dimensions.

It is important that the right decision/action be taken/carried out at the right level. Thus, action at the household level are pridominantly social, technology and economic in nature. Similarly action to be taken at the state and nation level are pridominantly economic, political and administrative in nature. Action at the neighbourhood and city levels cuts across all five themes.

The matrix that links the dimensions of decision-making (social, technology, economic, political and administrative) with the levels of decision-making (household, neighbourhood, city, and nation) - helps in categorizing the decisions, action and related activities to be undertaken.

The Matrix is shown below:

Dimensions and Levels of decision-making Household Neighbourhood City Nation
The SWM Matrix

* Focal areas for action

The above matrix was 'field-tested'1 during a training session in SWM for city government officials. During the session, city officials from Nepal, China, Philippines and Japan categorized the various SWM activities and actions in their cities within the matrix - allowing them to identify weak areas - the lacks, gaps and mismatches, in their policies, programmes and projects.


Four key issues emerge from the above discussion -

  1. The SWM Matrix
    The advantage of the SWM matrix of scales and themes, is its essential simplicity - allowing for easy understanding and its adoption to various scales, and socio-political and cultural situations. Gaps in exisitng SWM programmes and initiatives can also be identified. The matrix helps in understanding the interrelationships and interconnectedness of the various issues involved.
  2. End-of-Pipe v/s Life-Cycle
    There is a gradual shift from 'end-of pipe' solutions that focus on waste disposal, to a source based approach that is aimed at 'life-cycle' analysis. This places the responsibility not only on households, but also in manufacturers and retail businesses. Greater awareness at the local and community level has forced businesses and industries to take a more environmentaly friendly approach to their activities, including better management of the wastes that they produce, using a more holistic life-cycle assessment (LCA is a systematic set of procedures for compiling and examining the inputs and outputs of materials and energy and the associated environmental impacts directly attributable to the functioning of a product or service system throughout its life cycle.).
  3. Community-Local Government Partnership
    As a consequence of the above two points is the realization that collection and processing of waste is not the exclusive domain of the local government - calling for a more comprehenisve partnership between the community and local governments where each actor has a role to play towards waste minimization, waste recycling and waste disposal.
  4. SWM and the Larger Urban Environment
    As mentioned above, SWM is not an isolated, municipal problem that has to be 'done' by the local government. There is a need for a more comprehensive package of measures. Critical to this approach is to integrate SWM activities within the larger process of urban environmental management.
1 CityNet / City of Yokohama Training-cum-Study Visit on Solid Waste Management - 29 November - 5 December 1998.
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