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What is Waste Management?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Waste management is an industry which revolves around the collection, storage, and disposal of waste, ranging from ordinary household waste to the waste generated at nuclear power plants. Developing effective waste management strategies is critical for nations all over the world, as many forms of waste can develop into a major problem when they are not handled properly. Numerous firms provide waste management services of a variety of types, and several governments also regulate the waste management industry for safety and efficacy.

Humans generate a great deal of waste as a byproduct of their existence, and they always have, as evidence at dumping pits located in or around archaeological sites can attest. Every task, from preparing a meal to manufacturing a car, is accompanied with the production of waste material, which cannot be used for other things and needs to be disposed of effectively. If not contained and handled appropriately, waste can balloon into a huge problem, as for example when garbage ends up in the open ocean where it can make animals and birds sick.

On the generation end, waste management agencies have placed an increasing focus on reducing waste so that there is less waste to cope with. This can be done on an industrial level by developing more efficient processes, reducing packaging, and so forth, and individual consumers can also make a commitment to try and generate less waste. A big part of this movement has focused around recycling, in which goods which are still usable are reclaimed so that they can be reused or repurposed.

Transportation of waste is a major issue, as appropriate disposal sites may be remote. Frequently, subscription pickup services are available, with people paying a flat fee to have their waste picked up and disposed of, and people can also subscribe to specialty services, like medical waste pickup services, or confidential paper shredding and disposal services.

Once collected, waste has to be dealt with. Historically, the approach to a great deal of waste has been burial in landfills. This option has become increasingly problematic due to issues like limited space, pollution, and concerns that usable materials may be buried in landfills. Waste has also been incinerated, in some cases being used to generate electric power, and some other creative approaches to waste management have included simply dumping it without any attempt at containment or disposal, as seen in some developing nations, along with sinking it in the ocean or shooting it out into space. These approaches are especially troubling because they set up waste management problems for future generations, rather than effectively dealing with waste immediately so that it cannot become a bigger problem.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon288875 — On Sep 01, 2012

Waste should be manages because what we do to the our environment can also affect us.

By highlighter — On Aug 06, 2010

@ Fiorite- Radioactive waste is classified into three different categories. Hospitals, industry, laboratories, and the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle create low-level radioactive waste. This waste is only mildly radioactive and is handled through industrial waste management practices. Waste management companies usually bury low-level waste in landfills, or dilute and disperse it into the environment.

Mid-level radioactive waste is all of the waste besides spent fuel rods. This includes equipment, chemical slurries, and radioactive resins. These wastes are more radioactive than low-level waste, but utilities can manage them on site. Nuclear energy companies usually shield this waste with concrete, lead, or steel, and bury or store it until it has decayed enough to be nearly harmless.

The last type of waste is high-level waste, which includes spent fuel and waste from reprocessing. The industry must store this waste for at least a thousand years before it is safe enough to disperse into the environment. High-level waste causes problems, but luckily, it only accounts for about 1% of all radioactive waste.

By Fiorite — On Aug 06, 2010

@ Highlighter- Is all radioactive waste the same? I heard that companies like Waste Management Inc process some radioactive waste. I am not sure if this is true because, as you said, storing radioactive waste is a big problem.

By highlighter — On Aug 06, 2010

Hazardous waste management plays a large role in the solution for the nation's energy problem. Nuclear power is a fairly sustainable and safe way to generate electricity. The only emissions are steam, and spent fuel cells. The steam poses no problems...it is what to do with the radioactive waste that gives people fits. Nobody wants the waste in "their back yard", and transporting the waste is hazardous.

Improvements have been made in the transportation of nuclear waste. New containers are nearly indestructible, but where to put it is the big question. We cannot shoot the waste into space because of risk of a rocket exploding after takeoff, nobody can agree on where to bury it in the earth, and burying the waste deep at sea is not cost effective. Finding a solution to our waste problems should provide work for waste management professionals for the foreseeable future.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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