Urban waste management

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Mondays are garbage collection days on my street in Brussels and they are also a good day to think about sustainable practices for the coming week. Garbage in Brussels is collected in 3 differently coloured plastic bags (actually 4 but one is only for organic waste from household gardens). The three bags separates plastic packaging (blue), paper and cardboard (yellow) and all other waste (white). There’s a fine that can be imposed for sorting stuff incorrectly – however my street seems not to have bothered much about the potential for a fine, the street is usually only filled with white bags…

This illustrates one of the problems with sorting at source – that it can be hard to get the general population to sort out their garbage properly. My hometown of Södertälje achieved over 90% of recycling (that is only 10% going to landfill) by using a system with only two bags – green for organic and any other bag for other stuff. The system uses infrared light to sort out green from other bags and then a mix of automatic (vibrating drums, eddy currents and the like) and manual (people) sorting to separate the “other” material. Companies like Wastetec in the UK hopes this is the solution to UKs horrible recycling record.

If you like me, think waste management is more exciting than football, then a nice overview can be had over at BBC and a google on “solid waste management” brings up a lot of interesting articles, mostly related to projects in developed countries. For the full developing country perspective – World Bank has a lot of resources.

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