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Water & Sanitation

Trash Talk: Everything you never knew you wanted to know about garbage

Let’s talk about garbage. I know, I know.. not the most glamorous topic out there, but a very important one to be aware of. So here we go! I’ll start with the basics - Waste Management is defined as the generation, prevention, characterization, monitoring, treatment, handling, reuse AND residual disposition of solid wastes. Gah that was a mouthful.

Source: Wikipedia 

After doing some research about waste management practices around the world, I realized how much I take this for granted living in New York City. To get rid of my trash, I literally walk three steps out of my apartment to throw garbage down a trash shoot, or walk down five flights of stairs to bring recycling to my basement. Aside from that minimal effort, I never really think twice about where my garbage or recycling goes. It wasn’t until recently that I became curious about how other countries get rid of their waste and the implications that waste management practices have on cities and on the environment.

Before I get into how countries of the world manage their trash (something I will be following this story up with next week), let me first tell you why understanding the concept of waste management is important.

Source: Wikipedia 

The art of managing waste is multifaceted and goes beyond keeping things tidy. For many cities around the world, solid waste management plays a huge role in employment and is often a city’s single largest budget item.

Health and Garbage

Waste management practices are critical to issues like public health, environmental quality, quality of life, and economic development. According to the World Bank, a city that isn’t able to effectively manage its waste is rarely able to manage more complex services such as health, education or transportation. Which are all extremely important matters. That, and let’s be honest, the fact that no one wants to live in a city covered in trash.

Source: Wikipedia 

Garbage Garbage Everywhere!

As the world becomes more urbanized, the state of waste management is becoming more critical. With more people living on the planet, it means that there is also more garbage being produced. Makes sense right? This is especially true in fast-growing cities where the majority of waste is generated. In a World Bank report entitled What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management, it is estimated that cities currently generate approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste per year (I can’t even wrap my head around how much garbage that actually translates to) and with the current trends in urbanization, this number will likely grow to 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025 - an increase of 70 per cent. That is a monumental amount of trash!!

The Cost of Managing Waste 

Source: Wikipedia 

As the amount of trash being produced increases, the cost of managing waste is also expected to rise. Today, it costs around $205 billion USD to manage waste, that cost will grow to $375 billion USD and the cost impacts are expected to be most severe in low income countries-who are already struggling to meet basic social and infrastructure needs, particularly for their poorest residents.

So why does any of this matter? While waste management practices represent a major challenge in the world, it also embodies a great opportunity. If managed well, solid waste management could aid in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the mitigation of climate change. It also plays a key role in avoiding problems like flooding, air pollution and negative public health impacts. Although it’s not the most exciting thing to discuss, it is imperative that we start talking about things like this. Waste management is a global development issue that is not just about the world’s poor, but about the world’s people. Every single one of us-whether we realize it or not- is affected by the issue and everyone should do their part to stay informed.

If you want to get involved, global citizens, sign the petition on this page to help ensure that everyone has access to adequate sanitation services.