What Is Integrated Waste Management? - Definition and Examples

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  • 1:32 Priorities of…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

Expert Contributor
Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

There are many ways to deal with waste. In this lesson we will explore the integrated waste management system that combines many strategies. We will also discuss how you can participate in your own kitchen.

What Is Integrated Waste Management?

For many years, there has been a divide in how to deal with solid municipal waste. Some believe the answer is waste management, which is the process of managing waste that is created and implementing disposal methods that reduce harm to the environment. The second strategy is waste reduction, which is the process of reducing the total amount of waste produced and also using waste for alternative purposes. Which do you think is more important, managing waste or reducing waste?

Although many people have strong opinions about which strategy is preferred, there is a new plan for dealing with waste that combines the two opposing strategies. The system is called integrated waste management, which combines a variety of strategies for both waste management and waste reduction. Some common examples of waste management that are involved in integrated waste management are burying waste in sanitary landfills and burning waste in mass burn incinerators.

Integrated waste management can also include waste reduction methods, such as reusing, recycling and composting. It is thought by both scientists and economists that if integrated waste management is implemented on a large scale in the United States, that between 75-90% of municipal solid waste could be eliminated due to the variety of strategies in place.

Priorities of Integrated Waste Management

Although it might sound simple to implement integrated waste management by using a variety of waste strategies, it is actually more complex. The United States Academy of Science has designed a plan for implementing integrated waste management that includes three priorities.

The first priority involves the primary prevention of pollution and waste by requiring industries to eliminate or reduce the amount of harmful chemicals used in production, reduce packing materials for products and make products that last longer and are easier to recycle, reuse and repair. This first priority targets large industry and attempts to reduce the overall waste produced at the source.

The second priority targets small businesses and individuals and focuses on secondary prevention of pollution and waste. This step involves educating and encouraging people to buy reusable products, repair broken items, recycle, reuse products and compost.

The third priority is very different from the first two and focuses solely on waste management, including treating waste to reduce toxicity, burying or incinerating waste and releasing some waste into the environment for dispersal or dilution.

As you can now tell from the priorities of the integrated waste management system, for the system to work efficiently, more effort and attention need to be paid to waste reduction. Unfortunately, although the priorities were designed by scientists and backed by data, most countries, including the United States, still tend to focus more attention on waste management.

Example of Integrated Waste Management

Although integrated waste management is designed as a large-scale system, there are things you as an individual can do to support the system. You can set up your kitchen in a way that makes it possible to separate your waste into appropriate categories. To support waste reduction, you can designate a container for recyclables. In some cities, all recyclable materials can go in one container but in other cities, they must be divided into glass, metals, paper and plastic. For waste reduction, you can also set up a compost container where you collect food waste for composting.

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Additional Activities

Putting Integrated Waste Management Into Practice

Students learn best by doing and in this activity students will practice what they have learned in the integrated waste management lesson by following the tips given.

Materials

  • Multiple containers for:
    • Recyclable materials (1-3, depending on style of separation)
    • Compostable materials (this container should be able to be sealed)
    • General waste materials

Instructions

  • Students should design their own integrated waste management system following the example given in the lesson.
  • Students should spend one week implementing their waste management program making sure to:
    • Separate all recyclable materials.
      • Divide the recyclable materials into appropriate categories if desired.
    • Keep a container of compostable materials, such as cardboard and food scraps.
    • Reduce general waste items as much as possible.
  • Students should attempt to further reduce waste by making choices in purchasing that reduces the amount of waste to be managed.
    • If students are not in charge of their household purchases, they should attempt to encourage their parents or care-givers to reduce purchases of items sold in excessive packaging.
  • At the end of the week, students should review each container and reflect on the total amount of waste created.

Reflection questions

  • Was it difficult to maintain a waste management system?
    • What aspect was most/least difficult?
  • Did you find that you made different choices as to what to buy or use after starting your waste management experiment?
    • How do you think this might impact your future behaviors?
  • Do you think everyone should/could conduct their own integrated waste management program in their own homes?
    • Why do you think so?
    • Why do you think many people do not participate in waste management activities?
    • Should waste management activities be mandated by governments?

Written Reflection

  • Students should write a report indicating how much waste they produced in the week's time. The size of the family producing the waste should be included. Students should also indicate how much of the waste could be re-used (recycled or composted) versus sent to general waste facilities. Within the report, students should answer the reflection questions and add any further reflections they have on the project as a whole and what they learned from it.

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