10 Waste Management Myths, BUSTED

by | Autumn 2024, Green Living, Print Articles

Every industry suffers its fair share of myths and waste management is no different. “We need to separate the truth from the half-truths and nonsense that can hinder our progress towards a waste-free society,” says Mpendulo Ginindza, President of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa.

Myth 1: Waste management is only about garbage disposal
How to dispose of one’s garbage is just a small part of waste management, a complex discipline that reaches across industries and national borders. It embraces strategies for ethical, sustainable and responsible product development, manufacture, consumption and disposal, including the destruction, storage, recycling or reusability of waste.

Myth 2: Waste management is solely the government’s responsibility
Waste management is, in fact, the responsibility of everyone who generates waste, including households, retailers and, under recent legislation, product manufacturers. They are assisted by the waste managers who direct day-to-day operations in the waste industry.

Myth 3: The goal of waste management is to save the environment
While environmental preservation is a key goal of waste management, it equally benefits society and the economy. This includes protecting the health of humans, animals and plant life by preventing them and their surroundings from becoming contaminated. Contamination can threaten food and water supplies and therefore has dire economic implications.

Myth 4: Landfills are the only solution
Until now, landfills have been a necessary evil, not a solution. Modern waste management comprises a range of alternative strategies that seek to reduce landfills and minimise our dependence on them.

Myth 5: Recycling is too expensive and inefficient
In some cases, maybe, but if this myth were really true, recycling companies would not survive long, let alone profit as they do. Every year, recycling technologies become more advanced, cost-effective and efficient, ensuring recycling remains a go-to waste management practice.

Myth 6: Everything must be recycled
Unfortunately, this myth is the result of retail marketing focusing only on recycling because the term is popular with consumers. In fact, not all waste is suitable for recycling and other
methods exist to handle anything that is not. They include incineration, composting, waste-to-energy, reuse and others.

Myth 7: We need to maximise recycling rates
If only. However, achieving a maximum rate of recycling depends on many factors, such as recycling technologies, capabilities and throughput capacity as well as economic viability. Every solution has limits and, as mentioned, attention and resources must also be given to managing waste that cannot be recycled at all and for which better techniques exist.

Myth 8: Stricter regulation is the answer
Do more traffic cameras prevent people from speeding? Usually not. Regulation only sets the standard for compliance. It must be supported by education and public awareness programmes that teach people the benefits of positive waste management behaviours. Training needs to start at home and in kindergarten and continue throughout high school, university and into employment.

Myth 9: Waste management is a secondary concern
You may be surprised that many of today’s global problems, especially the climate crisis, are directly or indirectly linked to poor waste management. It is actually a primary concern because it is deeply embedded in so many others.

Myth 10: Third world countries can’t afford waste management
The truth? We cannot afford not to embrace waste management because that will cost us dearly in the long run. In fact, we have the opportunity to lead the world by developing advanced waste management techniques that fit the African context.

Successful waste management demands the participation of all stakeholders, including consumers, businesses and government. Unfortunately, waste management myths can hamper our initiatives and hinder our progress. “We need to educate ourselves on waste management truths so we can develop effective strategies and each play a meaningful role in reducing waste,” says Ms Ginindza.

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