Waste Management: A Quick Overview

Since 1970, it has become aware that waste is a problem and that the methods of treatment by landfill or incineration are not satisfactory. Also, there was the problem of recycling the materials that belong to them. At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, policies were adopted that were introduced worldwide. In the European Union the concerns were much older, the first European Commission directives on the issue of waste dating back to 1975. People are used to recycling since ancient times. Archaeological studies have shown that, in times when raw material resources were depleted, the garbage pits of ancient cities contained less waste with potential for recycling (tools, ceramics, etc.).

In the pre-industrial era, wastes from the processing of bronze and other precious metals were collected in Europe and melted for continuous reuse, and in some areas dust and ash from coal or wood fires were reused to obtain the basic material in the manufacture of bricks. The main reason for practicing material recycling was the economic advantage, the need for natural raw materials thus becoming smaller.

An English entrepreneur, Benjamin Law, was the first to transform the recycling of clothes that could no longer be used as raw materials for new textile materials. Thus, he invented 2 new materials: shoddy and mungo, based on wool recovered from old clothes, combined with new wool. In 1860, over 7000 tons of this material was produced in the town of Batley, England.

The most “favorable” periods for mass recycling were those of war. Nazi Germany is one of the countries where rationalization and recycling were adopted during the pre-war period. In particular, iron, but also other rare metals, textile fibers or bones from which soap was then recycled.

The lack of resources caused by the two world wars and other events strongly encouraged recycling. Strong government campaigns were promoted during World War II in each country involved, pushing citizens to donate metals and conserve fiber as an important issue of patriotism. Resource conservation programs established during the war were continued and subsequently in some countries that were not very good at natural resources, such as Japan.

Japan is one of the countries where recycling is regulated by law and generally accepted by the inhabitants, more than in other countries. In 2007, 802,036 tons of plastic were collected for recycling in Japan, 429.5% more than in 2000, meaning that every resident of the country recycles approximately 6.4 kg of plastic per year.

The next big investment in recycling took place in the 1970s, due to the increased cost of energy (aluminum recycling uses only 5% of the energy needed for virgin production; glass, paper, and metals also have low energy consumption for recycling). Adopting the Clean Water Act in 1977 in the United States created a strong demand for white paper (office paper that was already bleached increased in value then).

One-third of all waste in the United States is recycled. Thus, 82 tons of materials are recycled out of a total of 251 tons of garbage that is produced annually. An estimated 100% increase in the number of recycled materials in the US over the past 10 years led to an increased demand for dumpster rentals.

In the USA there is the largest production of waste per capita in the world. Thus, every day, on average, an American produces just over 2 kilos of garbage.

In the 1970s, the city of Woodbury in the US state of New Jersey was the first in the country to introduce mandatory recycling. Soon, other cities followed suit, the main reason for Americans’ new passion for recycling being the high cost of energy. Thus, 95% of energy was saved if recycled aluminum was used to produce aluminum.

The awareness campaign that the most efficient form of waste treatment is their recycling took place in Europe under the three R logo (Reduction, Reuse, Recycling). Although waste recycling initiatives under this generic were started in Eastern Europe during the communist era, in the context of the shortcomings of that period, the action, being imposed from top to bottom, encountered resistance. Currently, recycling is resumed, but the success of the recycling policy also depends on the possibility of sorting waste, which must be started right from the first phase, through the separate collection of reusable materials.

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