Integrated waste management is a system of waste disposal that includes separating materials according to type, and finding the best used for discarded products, which may or may not include depositing them in a landfill. In California, as one example, the goal of the state's waste management program is to find alternative destinations for at least half of the waste collected. These alternatives will include recycling some materials through an approved program, and reusing some materials as well.
An integrated waste management program will not only handle household waste, but many other types of wastes as well. Special routes may specifically pick up industrial waste, which may have different requirements as far as treatment and disposal is concerned. Medical waste, also known as biohazardous material, will also be picked up in a special way. This helps to protect workers, as well as to reduce pollution and meet certain environmental standards outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In most cases, the system will largely depend on the consumers themselves to separate the waste. Those not doing so may be subject to civil or minor criminal penalties. The city or county involved in the program will usually provide the designated receptacles, or at least inform residents where those receptacles can be bought. At that point, it is up to the resident to make sure things are in the proper location. In most cases, participation in the program is mandatory.
Once the waste is at the proper location, workers trained to handle each particular type of material will then further sort it, and perhaps begin the recycling process. After the waste is sorted, if it is not recycled on site, it may be transported to a recycling plant or go to a transfer facility. This facility will act as a clearinghouse for waste materials, and will be a busy point in the waste management system.
The benefits of an integrated system are that those picking up the materials should know what they are picking up, if the consumer is in compliance with the rules. This not only helps sort things so that all discarded materials are not going to the landfill, it also helps keep the workers safe. Communities that do not have this system may find that everything is discarded into the same trash bags, including biohazardous materials. Furthermore, the pre-sorting of many materials makes the entire process easier and more efficient.