Why is it so expensive to dispose of waste safely?
The waste management sector has not been exempt from the challenges of rising costs that have affected a broad range of industries. It has been a tough time for the waste industry since the pandemic hit in 2020. In addition to that, recent market inflations have led to increases in prices of goods and supplies along with higher energy costs.
As much as recycling reduces the energy needed to make products from raw materials, there are costs to dispose of waste and the costs of recycling usually lands on the books of waste management companies. This is unlike domestic disposal for 3R activities (reduce, reuse and recycle) activities. Scheduled waste management activities involve higher technology and energy usage to treat, recover, refine and recycle waste into reusable raw material.
Furthermore, waste export costs have been rising due to major waste destinations increasing taxes on waste imports. Developing countries’ cities, coping with booming populations, scarce financial resources and limited capacity to manage environmental issues, are facing a sharp rise in the amount and costs of garbage that they will be required to deal with by 2025.
The World Bank’s Urban Development department estimates that the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) globally will rise from the current 1.3 billion tonnes per year to 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025.1
The annual, global cost of this necessary solid waste management is projected to rise from the current $205 billion to $375 billion, with the cost increasing most severely for cities in low income countries.
There is a direct correlation between the per capita level of income in cities and the amount of waste per capita that is generated. In general, as a country urbanizes and populations become wealthier, the consumption of inorganic materials increases, as reported by the World Bank.
In Malaysia between 2014 and 2018, the highest volume of waste disposed of in landfills were contributed by Johor (850 thousand tonnes/year) and Kuala Lumpur (625 thousand tonnes/year). The high population in Johor and Kuala Lumpur was a factor. Both states experienced high economic development and urbanisation levels with top GDPs at 5.7% and 5.9% respectively. The Malaysian government has spent approximately 5.24 billion USD yearly to manage solid waste and the cost of waste collection and disposal alone take up to 60% of the local authority expenditure. 2
Waste management companies have felt the strain because of this.
What can be done to manage rising costs?
- Adopt good housekeeping, process modifications, eco-friendly design of products and cleaner technologies. This includes conserving raw materials and energy, eliminating toxic raw materials and reducing the quantity and toxicity of all emissions and wastes before they leave a process.3
For products, focus our strategy on reducing impacts along the entire life-cycle of the product, from raw material extraction to the ultimate disposal of the product.
Cleaner production is achieved by applying know-how, by improving technology, and by changing attitudes. Waste handling charges, raw material usage and insurance premiums can often be cut, along with potential risks.
- Integrating environmental management systems (EMS) or ISO 14001 within industries. An EMS consists of a systematic process that allows an organization to “assess, manage, and reduce environmental hazards” 4. Thus, an organisation needs to continuously monitor their environmental impacts by ensuring it is integrated into the actual management system guaranteeing its continuation and commitment to successful outcomes. Periodic EMS audits are one way to ensure it is effective and maintained.
Several benefits of EMS include:
- Financial savings through lower costs and improved global competition
- Improved performance and reputation
- Reduced business risks
- Compliance with environmental regulations
Environmental management systems (EMS) and cleaner production (CP) are located at the top of sustainable development tools. Huge efforts in spreading these concepts worldwide are dedicated especially to developing countries due to the immediate environmental and financial benefits they generate if properly applied.
- Scheduled waste management incurs costs that are payable such as Scheduled Waste SW 305 (spent lubricating oil) and SW 306 (spent hydraulic oil) or even SW 409 (disposed containers, bags or equipment contaminated with chemicals, pesticides, mineral oil or scheduled wastes). Others may be chargeable to remove hazardous properties in the waste.
Government subsidies can ease the costs faced by municipal budgets in low-income and middle-income countries. Basic solid waste management systems should be given allocated funds for more advanced approaches for waste treatment and recycling costs now more than ever. The choice of technology and methods used depend highly on the local capacity for investments and management.