Ecology Essay on the Problem of Municipal Solid Waste Management in the U.S.

7 pages
1720 words
Wesleyan University
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Overview of the environmental issue

The problem with municipal solid waste (MSW) management dates back to the industrialization period when increased production of new consumer products that resulted into more convenience particularly to the urban population. Roberts (2011) states that inventions like the television, refrigerators, and cars, among others increased in the demand for pre-packages food and eased travel to urban areas. This was coupled with the mushrooming of factories that led to the increase in the manufacture of the ever increasing consumable products. This bred the new era of the consumer society and population growth, as a consequence, escalating the amount of solid waste generated from households, schools, universities, and businesses. Rapid growth of urban populations, consumerism, and industries led to the generation of large amounts of waste which proved unmanageable for the local governments (Roberts, 2011). The inability of cities to effective manage the waste was evident in the growth of open dumpsites which were characterized with fires, odors, and vermin (Roberts, 2011).

Today, the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) reports that municipal waste disposal is still a serious environmental challenges that costs the US citizens billions of dollars each year. EPA reports that the MSW per capita generation has accelerated by 70 percent from the period stretching from 1960 to 2014 (EPA, 2016). The environmental agency further reports that the typical composition of municipal solid waste prior to recycling comprises paper, yard trimmings, food leftovers, disposable diapers, old furniture, electronics, electrical appliances and tires, plastics, metals, rubber, leather and textiles, wood, and glass among others.

Figure 1: Total MSW generated (by material) in US in 2014

Source EPA (2014).

2.0 Primary stakeholders involved and their interests

Poor collection and disposal of MSW is a serious concern with overarching consequences to different stakeholders. Some of the major concerns of poor environmental sanitation resulting from ineffective MSW management include contributing to many diseases, claiming a lot of taxpayers money, and draining the local, state, and national economies in terms of lost workdays, higher expenses incurred in the collection, storage, disposal, composting, landfilling, recycling and treating MSW, and other cleanup activities (Louis, 2004; Soltani, Hewage, Reza & Sadiq, 2015). The primary stakeholders involved in and/or affected by MSW generation and disposal in the US include government (local, state and federal), business enterprises, households (public), and organizations such as non-governmental organizations, schools and universities, among others (Soltani et al., 2015).

Each of these parties is involved in some MSW generation and disposal activity, for example, generating, collecting, or disposing the waste, stakeholder group, or serve as service providers, or take part in the formulation and implementation of waste management policies, or support efforts and/or organizations and institutions involved in certain areas of MSW management. These stakeholders have specific and different interests and roles in the MSW management, some of which cut across multiple stakeholder groups.

The interest of local, state and federal governments is to protect their citizens and the physical environment from potentially harmful impacts of these waste. Through EPA and other agencies, the government seeks to ensure proper generation, collection, and disposal of waste. Households, business enterprises, and non-governmental organizations, including the academia and research institutions, health organizations, and the media, among others, share the common interest - to have a clean and safe environment free from the harmful effects of MSW. However, some stakeholders like business enterprises and politicians might have conflicting interests (Soltani et al., 2015). For instance, businesses might perceive MSW management as a great opportunity to make huge profit as they may be hired or authorized to undertake waste management at the expense rather than being interested in having a safe and clean environment in the first place.

3.0 Actions taken by various stakeholders

It is imperative to observe at this early stage that each one of these above identified stakeholders have some responsibility and have engaged in some activity aimed at ensuring effective management of their waste. Most of these parties are generally aware of the adverse problems and risks posed by poor waste management to the physical environment and human health, such as contamination or air, groundwater, and soil; attracting insects and vermin, increased flooding as a result of clogged drainage systems, among others (Liu, Ren, Lin & Wang, 2015). As a consequence, they look for better and more sustainable ways of sharing responsibilities among themselves to realize this goal.

The federal, state and local governments have taken a proactive role in mobilizing and allocating human and financial resources to create and maintain an effective and efficient waste management system and services. For instance, local authorities have partnered with individual citizens and households, local communities, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), large corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholders to develop an adequate system of waste services (Soltani et al., 2015). Furthermore, local authorities, state government and federal government have are involved in enacting, monitoring, and enforcement of environmental policies, regulations and standards concerning waste management. Some of these regulations include the Solid Waste Act of 1965, the Resource Recovery Act of 1970, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, which are discussed in below.

Non-governmental organizations partner with local authorities and government agencies to mobilize community participation, voice the concerns of the locals, and provide education and create awareness to the public about the harmful effects of waste and proper waste management practices (Louis, 2004). Besides that, the private sector provide waste management services like waste collection, disposal, dumping, and recycling (Soltani et al., 2015). The business enterprises also partner with local authorities and state governments to search and implement appropriate actions across all the above areas of waste management. As a primary source of MSW, citizens and households have played a proactive role in waste collection which is not only labor intensive but also consume a significant part of the overall budget allocated to waste management. The public engage in primary waste collection methods like sweeping streets, pavements and gardens.

In most states, households and local communities cater for some or even all of the investment in and management of their local waste collection and disposal services (Soltani et al, 2015. Actions taken in this direction has proved to be successful in making the local cities and communities free of dustbins and several forms of MSW. They contract a few sanitary personnel or firms who go around the city or local community at specified times during which each household hands over its refuse to the sanitary personnel (Louis, 2004). This approach has the potential to achieve 100 percent door-to-door garbage collection, which explains its success. Equally, NGOs, schools, colleges, hospitals, business, and other organizations have undertaken more responsibility in to ensure proper management of their waste, for example, by disposing their waste in designated areas (EPA, 2016).

4.0 Policy development at federal, state, and local levels

Several policies have been developed at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure efficient and safe management of MSW. One area in which comprehensive policies have been developed is regulation. The local, state and federal government, through EPA and other regulatory agencies has enacted several laws and regulations that have be used to control the generation, collection, dumping, composting, recycling, and treatment of MSW. The first legal policy that was created to regulate waste management is the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965. This statute sought to help the local and state governments with resources (technical and financial) required to develop and implement proper waste management initiatives.

Also, it was designed to foster the setting policies, standards and guidelines for collecting, transporting, recovering, disposing, and treating MSW at the local and state levels (Liu et al., 2015). In an attempt to improve existing environmental regulations and standards, the Resource Recovery Act of 1970 was create. The enactment of this particular Act was an attempt by the federal government to shift its focus from waste disposal to more advanced methods such as recycling, resource recovery, and conversion of waste to energy.

The Resource Recovery Act made waste management a more comprehensive process since this became the primary statute governing the disposal of both solid and hazardous waste in the United States. Particularly, the Act establishes national goals aimed at protecting the physical environment and human health from the adverse consequences of hazardous wastes, in addition to promoting conservation of natural resources, reduced waste generation, and improved waste management (Liu et al., 2015). Furthermore, the Resource Recovery Act not only outlawed all open dumping of waste, including municipal solid wastes, but also promotes recycling of these materials.

Moreover, the statute gave EPA legal authority to define hazardous and non-hazardous refuse, as well as to enact and enforce regulations governing the management of hazardous wastes (Liu et al., 2015). However, inefficiencies that were inherent in the resource Conservation and Recovery Act in promoting better waste management led to the amendment and strengthening of this statute. Particularly the Hazardous and Solid Waste amendments were incorporated into the Act. These two amendments prohibited the disposal of hazardous waste on land, enhanced EPAs enforcement authority, and established even more strict standards for managing hazardous.

Besides that, several policies have been put in place to regulate MSW management at the local and state levels. For instance, the container-deposit system is a policy requiring the collection of a monetary deposit from beverage producers (including soft drinks, milk, water, etc.) at the point of sale. When the beverage packaging is returned to an agency that has been authorize to redeem the deposit or the original seller in certain jurisdictions, the deposit is refunded fully or in part to the original buyer. This deposit-refund system can be viewed as a tax imposed on waste producers or a subsidy for parties that recycle those packages properly. This policy applies in several states in the US, including Oregon, California, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts. The second policy is the Pay as you throw a framework used to price MSW per unit of waste. According to this model, the more waste a household or institution produces, the more costly it will be charged for disposing the waste.

Furthermore, EPA issues permits at the state and local levels to ensure proper and safe disposal, collection, treatment, and storage of hazardous wastes. The permits targets several stakeholders such as households and businesses contracted to collect and dispose waste. The permits are issued to firms that meet the established threshold capacity for managing waste properly. Also, EPA has set performance and technology standards and labeling requi...

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