Evaluating Waste Disposal Methods

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Evaluating Waste Disposal Methods

Athens citizens discarded waste in the streets until legislators banned the practice in 320 B.C., enacting the first recorded waste disposal law. Then in the late 1800’s, organized waste collection emerged with metropolises such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and London discarding collected raw debris in the nearest bodies of water.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the United States produces over 254 million tons of waste annually. Today, municipal services reduce the environmental impact of waste disposal by almost 10-percent by recycling. Despite this progress, legislators seek better options to manage waste created by new technology components and the remainder of the world’s waste products.

Waste Management in Modern Society

The waste disposal industry experienced radical improvement during the early 20th century due to inventions such as debris grinders, mechanical collection apparatus and on-board truck compactors. [1] Toward the middle of the century, unregulated dumping and incineration generated significant threats to public and environmental safety, prompting regulators to establish rules for safe disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous materials.

Today, advanced incinerators burn debris with less pollution and at the same time produce renewable energy. The innovations result from waste management laws requiring municipalities to maintain societal health conditions and reduce environmental impact. In recent times, regulators have examined the following waste disposal methods.

Method 1: Ocean Dumping

For waste management enterprises, ocean dumping is a convenient and cost-effective solution. [2] As an added bonus, the discarded materials feed and shelter indigenous marine life. However, the ocean cannot contain society’s entire refuse output. Excessive ocean dumping diminishes natural marine food sources, such as plankton, and causes water desalination that if left unchecked wreaks havoc with ecological systems that thrive in saltwater.

Method 2: Sanitary Landfills

Sanitary landfill operators easily expand and contract operations to meet demand. Once the operators saturate a parcel with waste, they repurpose the land. However, the surfaces grow unstable if mismanaged. Duly, some landfill-serviced communities bear added costs, such as public dumpster distribution for citizens as well as for maintaining safe, weight-bearing landfill surfaces.

Method 3: Incineration

Waste incineration maximizes processing plant space and functions effectively despite weather conditions. The odor free method reduces refuse volume by 50-percent, but with exorbitant labor and operating expenses. Additionally, the unprocessed refuse produces the same odor and attracts the same animals and insects as landfills.

Method 4: Open Dumping

The only advantage to open dumping is unequivocal cost-effectiveness. Open dumping presents an undeniable community health hazard. In addition to developing into an unsightly mess, the practice creates a breeding ground for diseases transmitted by animals and insects. In addition, the practice produces contaminants that seep into the ground and water supply. Over time, degrading waste produces a fetid, toxic gas that pollutes the air and endangers nearby inhabitants.

Method 5: Recycling and Composting

Waste disposal operators and environmentalists promote recycling as critical for long-term sustainability. Although highly effective, the practice is extremely costly, and not all refuse is appropriate for recycling. To date, recycling technology is somewhat stagnant, resulting in large expenses for processing due the largely manual workflow.

Method 6: Recovering and Conversion to Energy

Plant operators repurpose non-recyclable materials using waste-to-energy (WTE) processing. [3] The facilities convert debris into energy using processes such as:

  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Combustion
  • Gasification
  • Landfill gas recovery (LGR)
  • Pyrolization

WTE processing converts debris into renewable energy such as electricity and heat. The practice decreases society’s reliance on methane emitting landfills and fossil fuels and reduces refuse volume by 90-percent after extracting all usable energy.

Method 7: Waste Reduction and Reuse

Waste reduction and reuse begins with residents and businesses cutting down on unwanted byproducts at the source. [4] For instance, residents reuse nonfood items for other purposes, such as using plastic containers for miscellaneous storage, and eliminate food waste via garbage disposals, while businesses reduce unwanted byproducts by issuing digital receipts and encouraging consumers to use durable shopping bags. This is especially effective at manufacturing facilities, where fabrication produces large quantities of waste products. The method is favorable, because it saves energy and resources, while helping consumers and businesses reduce expenditures.

Real Life Conservation

In 1989, the state of Michigan opened the massive Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Facility. [1] During the first ten years of operation, the plant processed over seven and a half million tons of waste, or the equivalent to the amount of debris it would take to fill a vast, high-walled baseball stadium 40 times. Regulators permit the facility operators to process 4,000 metric tons of waste daily. The plant manufactures refuse-derived fuel (RDF) with boilers that produce steam and electricity. Daily plant production hovers at 3,300 metric tons, producing 3,100 tons of RDF. The facility produces 720,000 pounds of steam hourly, generating up to 68 megawatts of electricity.

Learn More

Civil engineers play a crucial role in engineering the structural solutions of tomorrow and plan, design, construct, and operate the infrastructure essential to our modern lives. As a student in the online Master of Science in Civil Engineering program, you can enhance your quantitative decision-making skills and learn how to justify managerial decisions with data. You will also explore the capabilities of modern management technologies and discover how to successfully leverage these tools to maximize efficiency in your projects and on your teams.


[1] https://www.britannica.com/technology/solid-waste-management

[2] http://www.gdrc.org/uem/waste/disposal.html

[3] https://www.epa.gov/smm/sustainable-materials-management-non-hazardous-materials-and-waste-management-hierarchy#Recycling