Post #1 – Solid Waste Management Series. Why? Does this matter.

The effects of landfills has caused the increase challenges of Solid Waste Management and made it one of the most pressing environmental issue at a local, national, regional and international level, while governments are increasingly faced with demands to reduce waste taken to landfill (illustrated at figure 1) daily, it must be accepted that solid waste management is a very costly and complex process usually under the guidance of the Local Government Authorities who may sometimes lack the expertise, tools and manpower necessary to meet targets and implement national strategies .

Effective solid waste management requires an ongoing commitment from Central Government, adequate budget allowances and a highly motivated workforce.

Figure 1: Beetham Landfill

Source: Trinidad Newsday, 2011


In the Caribbean and Latin America over the last decade a significant increase in landfills has been reported. Landfilling is usually the main treatment for solid waste, especially in developing countries, more than 90% of China’s solid waste is landfilled, this is mainly because its cost effective and accommodates all types of waste, but is far more dangerous than any other method because of its adverse environmental impact, which includes methane gas emission, pollution of groundwater and surface waters and leachate (look out for post #3 in this series that goes in depth on the environmental impacts of landfills) that represents one of the main sources of environmental problems linked to landfilling waste as well as taking up valuable space.

The waste generated in a country is closely linked to its economic activities, the wealthier an economy the more waste is produced. Waste management have become a critical issue in the Caribbean since the Caribbean islands have limited land mass and decreasing resources crippling the safe disposal of waste along with a rapidly growing population and recent boosts in the tourism industry making solid waste an issue needing urgent attention in this region.

Studies have shown that 80% in Trinidad and 70% in Tobago of total waste generated are recyclable but currently landfilled an area of great concern, the current and only method of final solid waste disposal along with inappropriate (illustration at figure 3) dumping employed by residents to dispose of uncollected waste causing recurring floods (as shown in figure 2, flooding in the capital city Port of Spain) countrywide as a result of blocked drains along with other adverse effects to the environment.

Figure 2: Flooding in Port of Spain

Source: Trinidad Guardian, 2012


The average waste generated per person in T&T is 4lbs per day, resulting in 1000 tonnes of waste taken to landfills daily, with an estimate of 700,000 tonnes in 2010, there are four landfill located in Trinidad and Tobago all of which was developed in the 1980’s and are either near or have exceed lifespan. The main landfill is the Beetham Landfill reaching its capacity in a few years.

Figure 3: Residential Dumping in the Chaguaramas 

Source: Trinidad Guardian, 2004


So what exactly is solid waste well according to Phillips, Thorne; 2011 establishing the nature of waste management is a key starting point for understanding this evolving and critical topic.

The definition of waste is very meticulous, since the value of what one may consider waste may differ for another’s. The Saturday Evening Post Volume 198 (1925) states that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison so one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure” further reiterating the point of waste being highly base on an individual’s preference.

Waste is any substance or objects the holder discards; intends to discard or is required to discard.  UN Basel Convention (2012) states that “Waste is materials that are not prime products produced (that is product for the market for which initial user has no further use in terms of his/her own purpose of production, transformation or consumption, and of which he/she wants to dispose)”. Waste is usually broken down into categories household waste, construction and demolition waste, industrial waste, mining waste and agricultural waste.

From country to country the definition of solid waste varies taking into consideration culture, geographic region, climate, social behavior, population, season and most importantly economic condition. Waste Management Paper 26B states “Solid Waste is that waste that is collected and disposed of by or on behalf of a local authority”. It will generally consist of a wide range of materials, glass, metal, paper; plastic and organic waste all mixed together.  Solid waste can also contain human and animal faeces, hazardous chemical and sharp object these are usually collected from houses, streets, public places, shops, offices and hospitals.

Next post – Classification of Solid Waste.



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