Monday, August 04, 2008

What a Waste?

Key air pollutants include particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), lead (Pb), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3), and ozone (O3) (an important secondary pollutant formed due to the chemical interaction of the various pollutants mentioned above).

Fossil fuel combustion (e.g., combustion for domestic cooking and heating, power generation, industrial processes, and motor vehicles) is typically a major source of air pollution. In addition, the burning of biomass such as firewood, agricultural and animal waste contributes a large proportion of the pollution in some urban areas, and these traditional sources are often neglected (and difficult to estimate) through emission inventories.

Among many of the sources of air pollution, one important non-traditional source is the burning of household and industrial waste, though prohibited by law. There are regular incidences of waste burning (following the road sweeping or in the residential corridors where all the waste gets accumulated or even at the landfills) and is a common sight among the developing country cities and rural areas. Some of the direct emissions, such as PM and other toxic substances, depending on the mix of the waste, are hard to quantify and is accompanied by a large uncertainty when dealing with estimation of contribution garbage burning to the ambient air quality.

1. Tyre burning in Kathmandu (Photo from Clean Air Network, Nepal) 2. Roadside burning of trash collected in Hyderabad, India (Photo by Dr. Gertler, DRI) and 3. Roadside fugitive burning in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

There is no one solution for this problem. As uncertain the the source is, the solutions are as wide from household to the industrial sector. At least, in case of the industries, there are set norms for waste management and how the waste is recycled or reused. However, in case of the households, the main solution is having a proper waste management program. Though, most of the cities management proper landfills and garbage collection programs, a substantial amount of the garbage ends up along the roadside collection bins and gets burnt. The burning could partly be because of the collection agency or the roadside sweepers, which/who might find burning the waste as an easier and faster way of getting rid the source.

Before we go after the institutional settings and how the garbage collection system and landfills operate, one should focus on the source itself and how to reduce the waste entering the collection bins. If the focus is on the household sector, the garbage can be better used or re-used in multiple ways and sharing here some information in doing the same.

For the biomass (e.g., vegetables and other biodegradable substances), best solution is composting and use the product in the gardens. See: for details how to use traditional pottery for waste management in the house (operated out of Bangalore, India). More on composting methods is detailed @ Journey to Forever.

See the movie "Garbage, the revolution starts at home" and read more at their website.

A good overview of Recycle and Waste is presented by Dept. of Environment Food and Rural Affairs, UK, here.

One of the most recycled material is paper, and the demand for waste paper is high and an article reviewing this demand is presented in Science Daily (July 16th, 2007).

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