Most of the waste produced in Europe and in USA has been sent to landfill for the last 50 or so years. In the past it was easy to dispose of waste this way, as it was cheap, and space was often available in old quarries. Space approved for landfill is set to run out in the next five to ten years.
In the UK about two-thirds of land filled waste is biodegradable organic matter from households, businesses and industry. In 2007/08 about 15.5 million tonnes of municipal waste, most of which is household waste, was sent to landfill. Other waste sent to landfill includes inert materials; for example, from construction and demolition. Biodegradable materials such as paper and card, textiles, food and garden waste decompose and release the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide.
This would sound like a sustainable option for waste management in Nairobi especially as we produce over 15 tonnes a day of waste however let us look at why landfill sites are the most heavily taxed waste management activity in Europe and why there is currently a ban on using landfills in Austria, the Netherlands and there will be a regional ban in Europe as of 2030
How does A landfill impact on our health and on the environment?
One tonne of biodegradable waste produces between 200 and 400m3 of landfill gas. 43 per cent of UK methane emissions came from waste management; including landfill in 2007 burning the methane produces carbon dioxide, which has a much weaker global warming effect. Extending these measures will reduce methane emissions over the next 10 years.
Landfill sites have been investigated as the possible cause of birth defects, cancers and respiratory illnesses including asthma. A UK study has recently identified a link between living within 2km of a landfill site and a small increased risk of certain birth defects. However, it is not known if the landfill was the cause of the defects. A similar study found no evidence for an increased risk of cancer in populations living close to landfills. More research is needed to quantify the risks and establish any causal links. Symptoms such as tiredness, sleepiness and headaches have also been reported. Although these symptoms cannot be assumed to be an effect of toxic chemical action, they may indicate that sites can have an impact on stress and anxiety.
Thus it’s a tough balancing act between the energy to be derived from a landfill as well as the low economic costs to building and managing one. The case the European Union brings is that it in order to generate the gas bio-degradable waste is needed in the landfill and this waste could have greater benefit to the community if used in other ways for example composting gives a cheaper option to fertilizer for farmers and increase food security and food production. It is also argued that it is not a sustainable use of land again with an increase in population the need for housing is also increasing the demand for food as well as need for green spaces thus is using huge tracts of land for waste management the best use of land. Aren’t these questions similar to the challenges we also face here in Nairobi County?
What solutions are available?
First the waste hierarchy needs to be used and as defined by UN : top of the hierarchy is reduce waste, second is reuse, third is recycle last and the final resort if all the above fails should be dispose of the waste
If we take this approach we see that we need to develop a framework that encourages less waste this means reduce the amount of waste that goes into your dust bin for example few homes put newspapers or magazines in the dustbin as there is someone you know who can buy them from you. Rwanda has taken this a step further and banned the use of plastic bags so as to reduce and remove the waste that plastic bags present. What do you do with the waste that cannot be recycled, or reused what we call residual waste is it best to bury it or burn it?
Firstly what is an incinerator and what are the advantages of using one? Incinerators are an apparatus for burning waste material, esp. industrial waste, at high temperatures until it is reduced to ash. The first incinerator I worked on was in Sheffield and was used to produce energy in a nearby low income community. The incinerator has an insatiable appetite and though it produced much needed energy it consumed all the waste from the area thus recycle rates were none existent and the plant became unsustainable as it needed more waste thus imported waste from other councils in order to provide the small town with the energy it needed. It would take over 10 years for the cost of managing the incinerator to break even. Was this an isolated poor experience or are there redeeming qualities of an incinerator
The conclusion of this debate will be published next week