My last post talked about the significant importance of material separation at waste collection points. A focused approach on waste separation, while reducing general waste and improving quality of recycled materials, can also result substantial cost reductions. This is due to the expensive waste processing costs which are inevitably passed onto the consumer. Less processing = less cost. Although waste separation may be a suitable solution in the researched setting, it may not be the right solution in the real world where many unseen factors contribute to the way a society handles waste.
In this post, I will talk about the research and data analysis methods used in my study and highlight where these methods may need further development in order to successfully translate into conceptualised solutions.
Before deciding on an appropriate research method, we should have a complete understanding of the waste management services available to us regardless of popularity or effectiveness. My household waste research is limited to landfill which, although common, considerably understates the entirety of the industry. The waste industry, with the help of much-needed government funding for grants and innovation in the field, is a complex network of competing businesses including equipment hire and sales, logistics, planning, processing and brokerage of all things. Yes, in industrial settings, waste management companies such as Veolia, Sita, Cleanaway and ReSource will compete to remove waste (for a cost) and pass onto landfill (for a slightly lower cost). Ahh, capitalism. Because of this complexity, a well-considered solution should take into account the comprehensive array of potential avenues available to us. An example of commercial waste management services can be seen in the video on the front page of the ReSource website (ReSource Environmental Solutions 2012).
Image 1 – Artistic parody of throwing money away.
My household research was also limiting in regards to data collection and analysis. The waste produced by a single person over the period of 24 hours will generate a considerably small sample size when data can only reflect output waste over that particular day. For example, my data did not show a milk carton in my waste. Analysis of this would suggest that I do not drink milk at all, which is untrue. Additional to this, the products in my personal waste reflect only what resides in my household. Many other items of my daily consumption contribute to landfill such as the coffee grinds from my coffee which, in this case, the waste would be the responsibility of the coffee shop where it was purchased. This is in contrast to a high-rise office setting where the coffee could potentially be produced and consumed within the one waste management system. In short, small sample data collection can produce information that is largely irrelevant on a mass scale.
It is also important to recognise the type of waste produced as certain materials require completely different management strategies. In some cases, the waste may need to be processed on site before being moved and in other cases, waste can be converted into usable material on site without the need for external processing, excluding it from landfill altogether. This can be commonly seen in organic waste management, where large buildings can separate and successfully utilise compost produced by a closed system. It is also not surprising to see organic materials as one of the highest contributors to household waste. “Around 50% of household waste and 30% of all waste we throw away is organic” (Environmental Protection Authority 2016).
Image 2 – Valuable soil can easily be produced from organic waste.
To conclude, we can see that there is a complex landscape within the waste industry which requires careful consideration before attempting to conceptualise a solution. Following this post, I would like to explore the possibilities of organic waste management and how we can tackle the perceptions of the past.
Environmental Protection Authority 2016, Organic Waste, viewed on 14 June 2016, <http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/waste/organic-waste.htm>.
Resource Environmental Solutions 2012, why we are different, videorecording, viewed 14 June 2016, <http://www.wastemanagement.com.au/>.
Image 1 – Inciyildirim 2014, Recycle Organic Waste, WordPress, viewed on 14 June 2016, <https://inciyil17.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/recycle-organic-waste/>.
Image 2 – Roots SA 2011, Media buying is not for the faint hearted, viewed on 14 June 2016, <http://rootssa.com/blog/media-buying-is-not-for-the-fainthearted>.