The management of municipal solid waste (MSW) is an important global and local environmental issue. Solid waste is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “waste generated in households, commercial establishments, institutions and businesses. MSW includes used paper, discarded cans and bottles, food scraps, yard trimmings and other items. Industrial process wastes, agricultural wastes, mining wastes and sewage sludge are not MSW1.” If disposed of improperly, MSW has several negative effects on humans and the environment including contamination of water and soil, which can cause poor sanitation and the spread of disease2. Additionally, improper disposal can attract rodents, fleas, birds, and other pests, along with creating potentially dangerous airborne pathogens3.
Industrialized countries are responsible for producing the majority of the world’s MSW, yet developing nations often suffer more from the adverse effects of waste due to lack of proper disposal methods. The options for management of solid waste in developing nations are limited. This is largely due to factors such as high population densities and rapid population growth rates along with limited financial and human resources. Population pressures on developing communities have caused inadequate waste disposal to create unhygienic conditions2.
MSW is often placed in a landfill when recycling or incinerators are not viable options for waste management. Landfills are chosen due to lack of development or simply because a type or quantity of waste produced cannot be recycled or incinerated. Landfills have the potential to contaminate air, surface water, sediment, soil and groundwater6. The ash produced from waste incinerators is disposed of in landfills, and has the potential to be swept into the air by wind. Ash that becomes airborne has the potential to contaminate fragile ecosystems and freshwater systems7. Health problems that arise from breathing ash polluted air, drinking contaminated water, or being exposed to hazardous waste affect human populations as well. In addition to the health concerns that arise with solid waste disposal, people are also affected by the aesthetics of waste. Most people would appreciate solid waste that is disposed of in a safe and inconspicuous manner.
The amount of MSW produced continues
to increase. The EPA estimates that in the
initiated by Non Government Organizations and other regimes have confronted the
issue of waste in some areas of the world by developing management strategies
and implementation assistance. For example, in developing countries such as
In addition, Agenda 21, created at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 1992, concentrates on the effects of waste on other environmental issues. Agenda 21 outlines strategies for changing consumption patterns and protecting and promoting human health conditions with environmentally sound management of toxic chemicals and the protection of the quality of freshwater sources. A hierarchy of objectives was developed within Chapter 21 of Agenda 21 that includes waste minimization, maximizing environmentally sound waste reuse and recycling, promoting environmentally sound waste disposal and treatment, and extending waste service coverage8,9.
International associations and initiatives exist to globally address the issue of waste. The International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) is a Copenhagen-based association designed to promote and develop sustainable waste management worldwide. There are thirty-four member countries that focus primarily on supporting developing nations in implementing eco-efficient and sustainable waste management systems. An International Waste Treaty does not currently exist, yet the ISWA is in the process of creating one10.
Domestically, solid waste is managed
at federal, state and community levels. At the federal level, the most
important regulation is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of
1976 and its 1984 and 1986 amendments. The act is designed to improve the
management of solid waste in the
The issue of MSW affects the state’s
diverse environment, as well as the approximately 1.4 million people that live
in Maine11. Fortunately, the state of
The policy of the EPA toward MSW is an integrated management plan that has been adopted by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Three major components define the plan’s focus. Broadly, these include source reduction, recycling, and disposal. By tackling the first of these three points, the problem can be confronted at the root of the issue, which therefore makes source reduction the most important focus of the EPA and DEP in managing solid waste12.
The EPA has certain MSW regulations that set minimum
national standards in management. More stringent regulations are left up to
The state has made goals to reduce the amount of solid waste
MSW is dealt with mostly at the
community level in
Along with larger plans designed to tackle problems such as
hazardous waste disposal and large-scale MSW management plans, smaller programs
are in effect. An Executive Order created in 1992 addressed the problem of
waste in state agencies. An Inter-Agency Waste Reduction and Recycling Task
Force was developed to mandate policies such as
promoting employee environmental education16. Another program
instigated by the state of
Another approach in
Major contributors to MSW are food scraps and
yard waste. To address this issue, the Maine Waste Management Agency created a
Master Composter program that was developed to deal
specifically with these two types of waste. In conjunction with the
current state of solid waste in
Disposed waste is more feasible to
measure than materials consumed, therefore this report focuses most heavily on
the quantity of waste generated. Each municipality in
Waste is categorized within the reports into specific types (i.e., recycled glass, yard waste, etc.). Indicators that demonstrate which sub categories of waste are increasing or decreasing in quantity allow for more applicable management methods. Specifically, the major indicators of importance in monitoring types of MSW include: annual quantity of non-recycled waste generated, and annual quantity of recycled waste generated.
Method of disposal is another
important aspect in understanding the state of MSW in
Another factor that must be considered is the MSW that is
transported across our state boundary. Although this number composes a
relatively small proportion of the state’s total MSW, changes in the amount of
waste imported and exported are important. For example, trends that demonstrate
an increase in imported waste would be important to consider when determining
the reason for greater quantities of MSW in
Recycled materials are broken into more specific
subcategories of paper, plastic and glass. By identifying specific recyclables
that have lower recycling rates than others, these materials can be better
targeted for improved management. Environmental education programs, increased
availability of recycling stations, and the implementation of economic
incentives for recycling are all efforts
There are a total of eight municipally operated landfills that accept MSW. Additionally, there are currently four incinerators that accept MSW in Maine25.
Figure 2 shows the percent of MSW imported into
The quantity of MSW
imported and exported annually in
The quantity of MSW disposed of in
From 1993 to 1997, the amount of waste recycled in
Three major recycling categories include paper, plastic and
glass. Each of these materials can be made into new products, therefore using
less energy to produce brand new materials. Access to recycling programs,
applied economic incentives, and community environmental education programs are
ways in which the state of
The number of communities with access to recycling has
increased over the past decade, which may explain the increased rate of
participation. In 2001, 40 percent of
Paper composes the majority of materials recycled, a quantity that increases annually. Figure 5 displays the trend in paper recycling from 1993 to 2001. This steady increase over time is similar to the trend displayed by total recycling rates. Also comparable to the total is the steeper increase prior to 1997, followed by a leveling off. Despite less annually growth in the past 7 years, the quantity of paper recycled is still slowly increasing26.
Figure 6 suggests that glass recycling is decreasing, which is opposite from the increase observed with paper in Figure 5. In 1993, the state recycled 5,500 tons of glass, yet by 2001 this number had decreased to about 3,500 tons. This could be due to less packaging with glass, and therefore less glass being consumed and disposed of26.
The total quantity of plastics recycled neither increased or decreased strongly from 1993 to 2001. However, Figure 7 shows an overall increase in the quantity of glass recycled. The increase is occurring at a relatively slow rate compared to papers.
Economic incentives such as the Pay-As-You-Throw system have
become more widespread in recent years. Citizens in 129 communities, which is 23 percent of
Problems did arise, however, with the implementation of the Pay-As-You-Throw system. There was a slight increase in illegal dumping, due to the increase in cost of disposing of waste properly. Additionally, 9 of the participating towns reported overstuffing of bags to be a problem with the system. Instead of filling bags to a natural capacity, residents have an incentive to place as much waste as possible in a bag to decrease personal costs.
The bottle bill is another economic incentive designed to
increase bottle recycling. A refundable deposit included within the price of a
beverage is returned to the consumer when the empty container is returned at a
collection facility. In
remaining disposal capacity in landfills is decreasing. As shown in Figure 8,
the remaining life expectancy depends on the landfill, yet cumulatively, the
average time remaining in landfills in
1: Remaining capacity in cubic yards and estimated number of years in
Remaining Capacity Cubic Yards
Current landfills have already undergone expansions to accommodate additional waste. Expansions will occur in the future to landfills that can structurally support modification. It will also be necessary in the future to create new landfill space. To prevent the need for several additional landfills, it is important to minimize the amount of waste for landfills as much as possible through efforts such as recycling.
According to the Waste Management and Recycling Program in
While it is often more simple from a
management standpoint to address waste once it is generated, policies that
focus on reducing consumption would have a dramatic impact on the recyclable
and non-recyclable waste generated. Environmentally friendly packaging and
encouraging the reuse of products in their original form would cut down on the
amount of new MSW entering the waste stream. Encouraging overall consumption
reduction is another way in which policy makers could address the issue.
Approaching management exclusively from the disposal of MSW limits options for
reduction in waste quantity. Recycling alone is not enough;
Financial support must be given by
the state to fund the local projects and initiatives necessary to reduce
disposed MSW. Without financial backing, programs such as community education
or the development of additional recycling facilities would be impossible. To
achieve the state goal of increased recycling, improvements must be made to the
current system such as the implementation of Pay-As-You-Throw initiatives in
Overall, the state of municipal
solid waste disposal is relatively good in
Protection Agency. Summary of the EPA Municipal Solid Waste
Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division. Population, Environment and Development. http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/concise2001/C2001English.pdf
of Environment and Forests. Hazardous Waste: Special Reference to Municipal
Solid Waste Management. http://envfor.nic.in/soer/2001/ind_waste.pdf
Protection Agency. Municipal Solid Waste in The
Protection Agency. Municipal Solid Waste: FAQs. http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/faq.htm#7
6. Environment Agency. Monitoring of
Landfill Leachate, Groundwater and Surface Water.
7. Bagchi, A. & Sopcich, D. Characterization of MSW Incinerator Ash. Journal of Environmental Engineering 115, 447-452 (1999).
9. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Environmentally Sound Management of Solid Wastes and Sewage-Related Issues. Agenda 21, Chapter 21 (2003).
Solid Waste Association.
of Environmental Protection:
Protection Agency. Basic Facts: Municipal Solid Waste. http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/facts.htm accessed
of Environmental Protection:
Protection Agency. Overview of Executive Orders Affecting
Federal Facilities. http://www.epa.gov/swerffrr/documents/execord.htm
Protection Agency. Bring-your-own-bag: Questions About
Your Community. http://www.epa.gov/region1/communities/shopbags.html
Recycling Institute. Bottle Bills at a Glance:
Protection Agency. MSW Facts and Figures: State MSW Data. http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/mswdata.htm accessed
Protection Agency. Number of Landfills in Each State. http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/longdesc/4-8longdesc.htm
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