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Non-Hazardous Waste Management Hierarchy
Municipal Solid Waste is a Valuable Resource
Municipal solid waste (MSW) is composed of different materials or commodities. It is not simply trash. MSW contains valuable commodities such as paper, cardboard, aluminum, steel, and energy.
An integrated waste management system considers fluctuating recycling markets, energy potential, and long-term landfill cost and capacity to make a waste management strategy that is sustainable. Commodity prices can fluctuate. What is economically preferable one year is not always environmentally preferable in the long run. However, by following the hierarchy of environmental preference, communities can ensure their economic decisions regarding MSW management are environmentally sound as well.
One difficult variable to consider when developing an integrated waste management system is time. In other words, over what time period should the benefits and costs of managing MSW be considered? Competing interests do not always have the same time frames: budget planning, capital projects, and election cycles vary in length; thus, more effort must be made to balance short term benefits with long term costs.
Integrated Waste Management Hierarchy
Designed to show the most environmentally preferable options for waste management, the hierarchy places emphasis on reducing, reusing, and recycling the majority of wastes. Reducing MSW generation is the most effective way to address waste management costs and prevent the use of virgin materials. Reusing materials in the MSW generated is the second best method. Capturing the material value of MSW through recycling should be considered next. Source-separated yard waste can be composted aerobically to produce a soil conditioner product or used in landfills, in place of soil, as alternative daily cover. Source-separated mixed food and yard wastes, can be anaerobically digested to generate methane for energy generation and a compost product that can provide soil amendment value. Combustion or gasification with energy recovery, or waste-to-energy (WTE), is the environmentally preferable route for mixed solid wastes that are neither recyclable nor compostable. From an environmental standpoint, landfilling MSW is the least preferred option. However, community decisions are based both on environmental and economic factors.
- Source Reduction and Reuse
- Combustion with Energy Recovery
- Landfilling and Incineration without Energy Recovery