How Big Cities Take Care of Garbage

Just like a child drops a candy wrapping right on the floor, an average citizen drops... 400 kg of garbage yearly. How do a city government manage that trash?

Environmental pollution is bad. This fact is not emphasized enough in schools.

As consumerism is typical in capitalistic societies, every person produces lots of various kinds of dangerous waste that do not just decompose in a natural environment on its own. Plastic never really decomposes, it just breaks into smaller particles over time. That said, plastic is far not the most dangerous waste an average person can produce – electronics are.

Any industry produces more or less dangerous waste as well. If the process is left uncontrolled, damage to the environment can be irreversible.

Now imagine a city that produces up to 10 million tons of waste a year.

How they do it wrong

This year, in Volokolamsk, a Moscow suburb, 57 children got into hospitals due to an emission of hydrogen sulfide from Yadrovo landfill. As you may have guessed, the waste came from Moscow. I could give a lot of persuasive numbers and opinions about the harm that inadequate waste management brings to us, but this fact speaks for itself. It can be put simply: children get poisoned.

About a half of authorized landfills in Moscow region have already reached their maximum capacity. There are more than a thousand of unauthorized ones. One huge dump was found in Moscow itself, at the top floors of the unfinished building. It was discovered when people finally smelled it.

In total, less than 10% of waste is processed (burned to be exact).

What is wrong? First, no government regulation. That is why the separate collection of waste and recycling bins are still exotic in Moscow. Individuals and environment-conscious businesses cannot organize all recycling processes on their own. Even if they have enough funds, they need law enforcement that only government can provide. In fact, hundreds of collection points do function in Moscow, but it all doesn't work out as intended. Recycling is not popularized.

Second, the government seems to be okay with piles of trash surrounding the capital. Once a small gang of women tried to stop garbage trucks on their way to landfill – and succeeded. The next time, trucks were secured by police and steadily passed through. Peaceful protests were traditionally ignored.

What if Russia just asked the international community for help? Is it even possible now, considering its quite uncertain political situation?

How they do it right

Sweden does it differently. They manage to utilize up to 99% of all waste: half of it is recycled for further reuse and the other half is burned to produce heat and electricity or processed into biofuel. Less than 1% of waste ends up in landfills.

It all starts in houses of common citizens. They are responsible for sorting all the waste into categories: paper, plastic, metal, glass, organics, and electronics. Speaking of the latter, they don't just throw it away.

How is this kind of waste treated then? Cars, car tires, electronics, batteries, and pharmaceuticals?

They are returned to the corresponding manufacturer, and the manufacturer is responsible for providing an easy way to do so. Even cardboard packaging has to be returned back. Precious and rare components can be thus recovered from waste and reused. Take a look at this astonishing study that states that gold worth of $22 billion was just thrown away worldwide in 2016 as electronics.

Local governments are responsible for the whole process: collection of garbage from individuals and enterprises, its transportation to recycling plants, planning how to reduce its amounts, managing the further use of recycled waste, if any, etc.

This way, everyone is involved and encouraged to keep the idea of recycling in mind.

Sweden even imports waste from the surrounding countries and makes money of it.

Germany manages to take care of up to 75% of its garbage. The old landfills are emptied and no longer used. They also take waste management seriously and make a profit. As of 2017, waste management business generated the revenue of around 70 billion euros and provided workplace to more than 250 thousand people. More than 15 thousand recycling plants operate around the country.

Doduco recycling facility manages to efficiently and safely reclaim tons of precious metals, literally, (like Gold, Silver, Platinum, Palladium and Rhodium) from electronic waste yearly.

In Japan, processed glass waste is used in road construction. They also raise artificial islands made of industrial waste since the 1950s!

All these facilities did not just appear in the above mentioned countries overnight. It took decades to form proper policies, organize, popularize, build, and finally collect the prize of cleaner cities.

What you can do

Recycling all the waste that you personally produce may be plainly impossible because there are no appropriate services in your vicinity. Well, then do what you can!

First, distinguish between recyclable and non-recyclable goods. Universal Recycling Symbol means that it's recyclable, so you'd put it into a corresponding recycling bin.

Recyclables have to be sorted into categories then. It gets more interesting when you realize that there are different kinds of plastic (which is signified by the number inside the symbol) and not all of them can be recycled nearby.

Then give all the sorted waste some basic cleaning and decrease its volume. For example, flatten plastic bottles, Tetra Pak packages and aluminum cans. Breaking glass is optional.

The good thing is that compostables can be just thrown away in the backyard if you have one. It is indeed not as bad as throwing away a single cigarette filter.

'Do not throw away' symbol means that the good is meant to be returned to the manufacturer.

Truth be told, you have to perform little personal research in order to find out which facilities function in your city and what can be done with the waste.

As you see, it takes some trouble to be environment-savvy. However, this is the least you can do to make sure your children breathe a bit cleaner air and drink a bit purer water.