Although some individuals would believe that one is either for or against landfilling, for or against incineration, and for or against Zero Waste initiatives, many waste professionals recognize no single universal waste management practice is preferable to all others. These experienced waste management professionals understand the concept of integrated waste management (IWM).
Proponents of IWM do not see the world in black and white. They understand that there is a range of waste streams to be managed and a menu of treatment/disposal practices from which to choose. The preferred waste management option for a community depends on how environmental, economic and social considerations are prioritized.
What is IWM?
Simply put, IWM is the coordination of different waste treatment and disposal options: recycling, organics treatment, energy-from-waste, and landfilling. Solid waste professionals realize that a mix of treatment/disposal options are available, depending on the waste stream.
IWM is defined by the application of the waste management hierarchy (1. Reduce, 2. Reuse, 3. Recycle, 4. Recover energy, and 5. Re sidual management) with local priorities (social, environmental, economic). The best IWM plan for one community may not be the best for another due to local priorities and conditions coupled with regional and national requirements results.
Konrad Fichtner, a consultant for AECOM in Burnaby, British Columbia, believes communities should involve their citizens in the process of finding waste management solutions so that the final solution is one that is acceptable to the majority.
“By involving residents in developing an IWM plan, the needs of residents wanting no new taxes are balanced with eco-activist citizens that want a green solution at whatever cost,” Fichtner states.
Economic priority: Some municipalities may be only interested in a low cost, short-term waste disposal solution. For those municipalities, landfilling is likely the preferred choice. These cost-conscious communities will only recycle if there are strong end markets and organics diversion may only consist of composting leaf & yard waste. For an IWM plan focused solely on economics, very little public education or community involvement is needed.
The main advantages of an economics-only approach are (0bviously) the low cost to taxpayers, the simplicity in implementation, and the convenience for consumers and industry. On the downside, valuable resources may not be utilized and future liabilities are often unaccounted. Also, there is no consideration of greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmental priority: For communities that place the environment as the main priority in IWM planning, there will be a major focus on maximizing waste avoidance and a high degree of source separation of all waste streams. In an environment-first community, recycling is mandatory, material bans exist and there are tax penalties on certain wastes. Every effort is made to maximize the recycling of organics and other materials regardless of market value. Mechanical-biological treatment is preferred over thermal treatment.
With an environment first approach, there are low GHG emissions, reduced demand for primary resources, a high number of “green collar” jobs, reduced long-term liability associated with waste disposal, and a highly educated and involved public. The disadvantage of focusing solely on the environment is the cost, complexity, and inconvenience of the IWM system.
An example of where the environment is a priority can be found in Swe den. In some municipalities, households are expected to separate waste into eight separate streams. A landfill tax of $65 per tonne deters this cost-effective yet environmentally damaging waste management option.
Societal priority: When a community places social issues as a priority, IWM programs are put in place that maximize community benefits and minimize negative impacts. Issues related to odor, noise, visual impact, convenience, and traffic all receive a high priority. The location and distribution of the IWM system is carefully considered as well as the employment quality and quantity from the system.
Society-first communities exhibit a sense of responsibility and believe waste should be management within their borders. The good news for society-first communities is that it supports local businesses, provides local employment. On the downside, there are no economies of scale for small communities that focus on a society-first IWM plan.
Full integration: A fully integrated IWM balances all three priorities — the environment, the economy and society. For many communities in Canada, balancing all three is tricky but can be made easier by engaging the public on the costs, benefits, and consequences of choosing specific options.
John Nicholson, M. Sc., P. Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John email@example.com
“Solid waste professionals realize that a mix of treatment/disposal options are available, depending on the waste stream.”
“On the downside, there are no economies of scale for small communities that focus on a society-first IWM plan.”