Sustainable waste management—what and how?

Historically, 'developed' societies have adopted a linear approach to the use of resources, with natural assets being processed, used and ultimately discarded as wastes with little if any thought being given to the capacity of the environment either to maintain the supply of resource at one end or receive the waste at the other. Although governments and the public are now more aware of the problems this creates, the current focus is often on meeting legislative targets rather than the more fundamental goals of sustainable resource management and care for the environment. This paper argues that 'waste' should be viewed as part of a resource cycle that includes extracting materials and energy from the environment, refining raw materials and producing goods, consuming and using goods and then eventually returning materials to the environment. Each process has inputs (materials and energy) and outputs (products, energy and waste). Waste outputs from one process can sometimes be used as resource inputs to another, or even the same, process. Sustainability principles require that resources are used with maximum efficiency while they are within the human part of the cycle, and that they are returned to the environment in a way that enables them to be extracted and used again something that at present happens only rarely, haphazardly and on a geological timescale. Options for sustainable resource management are reviewed and appraised, with reference mainly to household waste. It is argued that the management of interim and residual 'wastes' should be based on the most energy or resource efficient option for individual components of the waste stream; this might involve reuse, materials recovery, energy recovery or safe disposal of different components at different stages of the resource cycle. (A)


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  • Accession Number: 01060927
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Source Agency: Transport Research Laboratory
  • Files: ITRD
  • Created Date: Sep 10 2007 1:33PM