There is a lot to know and a lot we can do


We produce a huge amount of waste during our daily lives. When we throw away a snack, leave broccoli on our plate or decide that it is time for a new video game, we are saying that we do not want to use those things anymore and that we want to get rid of them. It is a simple process: once we have made the decision, we throw everything into the rubbish bin and when the rubbish bin is full, we throw the bag in the wheelie bin outside. From that moment on, the waste collection services will take care of our waste and our problem will be solved. In actual fact, there is a lot to discover about what goes on after that point with our waste and a lot we can do. First of all, what is waste?

What waste is and how it is created

We could say that waste is a substance or an object that a person wants to get rid of. Often, we are only able to see waste in our own rubbish bin and it does not seem to pose a great concern to us, but in reality, it poses a serious problem for the planet. Why?
In nature there is no concept of waste: in biological cycles, in fact, what is discarded by an organism becomes a resource for other living beings, so that nothing is wasted and everything is transformed. Dead organisms, animal excrement or plant remains are defined as organic waste and are used as food by particular organisms, called decomposers, which transform the waste of other living beings into precious resources and are therefore very important.

Waste in pre-industrial society

Even though in pre-industrial times human beings produced little waste, the problem of where to put what was discarded and thrown away existed even then. Everything that could not be recycled or reused was often just left in the street resulting in serious health problems. Otherwise the waste was burnt or buried outside the built-up areas, thereby giving rise to the first landfills. Waste from that period was different from ours: it was organic matter and it was mostly shop and kitchen scraps, human and animal droppings, carcasses, etc.

The different types of waste

The waste that we citizens produce every day is called “municipal solid waste” (MSW) and includes everything thrown away during our daily activities in the home. All other waste is called special waste and includes waste produced by industry, craft businesses, the health sector, etc. In order to facilitate the management process, MSW is divided according its composition, also called fraction by waste type. There are six main types: 1) recyclable materials (paper, plastic, glass, etc.); 2) compostable materials (kitchen scraps, plant cuttings, etc.); 3) bulky materials (sofas, furniture, etc.); 4) durable goods, waste from electrical and electronic equipment (computers, televisions, refrigerators, etc.); 5) hazardous urban waste (batteries, medicines etc.); 6) residual (everything that does not fall into the previous categories).

The amount of waste

Broadly speaking, it can be said that, as in the past, the production of municipal waste is directly proportional to wealth, or rather, to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. In actual fact, on the whole inhabitants of richer and more industrialized countries produce more waste than those of poor and developing countries. Within the European Union, the countries with the highest levels of municipal waste production are Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. Each of us produces an average of 1.5 kg of waste every day. Such amounts of waste have the potential to become just as many precious resources in terms of energy and raw materials, but it is necessary to build an integrated system of recovery and treatment, as previously envisaged by the Ronchi Decree (1997), then repealed and ‘absorbed’ by the TUA (Testo Unico in materia Ambientale – Consolidated Environmental Law). If not, huge amounts of waste can mean only major management problems for us and result in major impacts on the environment.

Waste Disposal

Integrated management

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