The term waste is a particularly general one which can be applied to a multitude of different items, but is broadly described as anything which is surplus to requirements and is being disposed of because an alternative use cannot be found for it.
When another use cannot be found, i.e. attempting to recycle the product or substance, it needs to be disposed of either through elimination or being stored somewhere such as a landfill site.
The method of disposal or storage can have severe negative consequences for the environment, not to mention the health, safety and well-being of all living organisms nearby, including human beings.
As a result of this potential for serious harm to be done, developed countries of the world have introduced strict laws and regulations with regards to the safe handling, movement, storage, disposal, and monitoring of waste. Whilst many people may think of dangerous waste as things like radioactive waste from nuclear power stations or clinical waste from hospitals or medical facilities, in reality just about any waste can lead to the creation of health problems or put at risk the welfare of creatures, often from the decomposition process of waste and rubbish as microbes flourish and release harmful gases or seep into nearby water.
Along with being required to comply with all applicable legislation within their particular jurisdiction, businesses are now also more acutely aware than ever of the impact upon their brand image and reputation that can come from being perceived as a major damager of the environment. The rise of far-reaching social media campaigns can quickly lead to a substantial boycott of a company's products which can seriously affect their sales revenue, or bring about protests which disrupt and hamper their operations. This has led to the recognition by company managers that training is now not only important with regards to the health and safety of their own workers, but that their employees need to understand how their actions can impact upon the environment too. To cater for this need, qualifications like the Environmental Certificate qualification accredited by NEBOSH (the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) are now highly sought after to teach employees the knowledge required for understanding how their actions and those of the business can negatively impact upon the local environment, and put health and wellbeing at risk.
Biodigesters and Organic Waste
Organic matter can be put to good use when it rots and decomposes rather than just having it sat in landfill where it can attract vermin or other scavengers such as foxes and the subsequent risks to human health that may come with it. As the microbes which break down the organic matter do so they produce and release methane gas as a by-product. This gas can be used as a fuel source to provide heating or turned into electrical power rather than obtaining it from a conventional source of fuel, such as a coal fired power station which has serious consequences for the environment.
The range of organic matter available means that biodigesters and composters can accept a variety of waste products including leftover foodstuffs, plant matter and even animal dung, which not only encourages the recycling of waste matter but enables people living in poorer parts of the world to generate power which they may not have been able to afford had they no option but to purchase it from the Grid.
Decomposing organic matter does have health risks for humans though, with the bacteria present also having the ability to cause serious illnesses to occur if it was somehow ingested. The bacteria will also release strong unpleasant odours which can be a significant limiting factor in the uptake of using biodigesters.
Whilst biodigesters and organic composters are considered good for the environment as it reduces a small part of the reliance and need for fossil fuel created energy, methane is a gas which damages the ozone layer that shields the earth from solar radiation. Gaps or holes in the ozone layer can let in this harmful radiation which damages the cells of organic organisms - including humans - causing conditions such as skin cancer.
Methane gas is extremely explosive. This means that methane gas trapped in a small space can explode if ignited, and will be a real risk for methane gas which is collected in a tank and not correctly processed.
Decomposing organic matter, particularly animal excrement, can also be used to produce fertilisers which increase the health and yield of food crops, and can be a matter of life or death in poorer countries where growing conditions are harsh.
Incineration of Waste
Often seen as an alternative to dumping waste in landfill sites which takes up space and looks unsightly, incinerating waste gets rid of it relatively quickly and easily. Whilst this is a particular benefit, there are unfortunately negative impacts upon the environment as well as for people living near the source of the incineration.
Burning waste will often produce harmful gases which are released and can be harmful to the environment and the ozone layer, as well as being potentially detrimental to the health of people living nearby, especially if particulates are released into the surrounding air and are inhaled by them. If the waste is not thoroughly separated before burning, it can cause hazardous substances to be released.
Incineration plants are nearly always visually intrusive buildings which certainly do not win any awards for their architectural beauty. Add to this the necessity for a large chimney stack through which to release the gas given off through the burning process and it can cause a visibility issue which affects residents for miles around.
Because it is so relatively quick and easy to get rid of waste by burning it, and the environmental effects can be difficult to see, it can have a detrimental effect upon recycling initiatives as people think rubbish can be burnt to dispose of it rather than attempting to re-use or recycle it.
The burning of waste is often done as a quick and easy option to getting rid of the problem without disposing of the materials or substances in the appropriate and legal manner. As well as being detrimental to the surrounding environment, there may also be other unforeseen consequences. One example is damaging a person's health if the material contains harmful substances hazardous to health which are released when burnt. Breathing in harmful fumes is one of the most common forms of how hazardous substances can enter the body, and the risk and toxicity will depend upon the waste being burnt. If a large amount is being incinerated, the person may not know exactly what is mixed up in the pile.
Even if you know the exact contents of the waste to be burnt and are sure that no hazardous by-products will be produced, it may still not be possible to burn it. Along with any national environmental legislation in place, Local Authorities may also have implemented certain restrictions such as forbidding the emission of smoke, so it is important to be aware of all regulations that apply before undertaking any burning of waste or other materials.
Benefits of Waste Incineration
Despite its drawbacks, there are also a number of benefits with regards to waste incineration. Along with the fact that incinerating waste negates the need for large areas of land to be used as it does for a landfill site, by not allowing rubbish to decompose there will not be vast quantities of methane released into the atmosphere; a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming.
Incineration is extremely useful when it comes to the disposal of clinical waste. Items which pose a health risk such as sharp syringes which can contain blood that may be contaminated with a virus, or hazardous biological material, can be burnt which will eliminate the hazard.
Not only does burning waste get rid of it quickly, but the incineration plant can also produce steam which can be used to drive turbines and generate electricity. Although likely to be a small amount, at least it will be a contribution and a little bit less electricity is then needed to be produced which would otherwise be created through burning fossil fuels in all likelihood.
Waste Facilities and the Environment
For most households and businesses, the rubbish that is thrown into the general waste bins will be taken away by truck to a site not far away, and the contents unceremoniously dumped into a large pile made up of all the rubbish that other trucks have collected in the area. What happens next will vary depending upon the facilities on the site, but in all cases there will be a potential and likelihood for a harmful environmental impact.
The first stage will often be the separation of the various types of materials from each other. Even with the significant increase over the last decade or so in terms of the amount of material which is recycled, there will still be a lot of items which could be recycled but were thrown into the general rubbish bin. Instead of these being sent to landfill, separating them out will enable many of the items to be recycled, which not only reduces the space required for landfill but also eliminates the need for fresh materials and resources to be consumed in making a brand new product when an old one could be recycled. This is obviously beneficial for the environment and the planet in the long term.
Some waste facilities will burn the rubbish sent to them. Segregation is therefore important to remove items which may produce and send out harmful gases and particulates into the atmosphere when they are burnt, otherwise environmental issues such as air pollution ensue which puts the health and safety of everybody living nearby at risk, particularly those sufferers of lung and airway-related conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.
Types of Waste Disposal
The disposal of waste is a key environmental issue for businesses and organisations, particularly manufacturers who have to dispose of harmful or hazardous substances that are either used in the production process, or are formed as a by-product of production. In recent years, many countries around the world have introduced tough new environmental legislation regarding the disposal of waste, as well as introducing recycling schemes and initiatives to try and reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill or has to be disposed of by other methods such as incineration, and the negative consequences that come with it (e.g. the emission of harmful gasses).
The traditional destination of waste, the future of landfill sites is becoming increasingly in doubt due to the number of problems and potential hazards that come with a large amount of waste in one location. Not only are they an eyesore and give off bad odours, but the decomposition of this waste produces methane gas which contributes to global warming, as well as concerns about the impact upon the surrounding environment such as the pollution and contamination of local water sources.
As towns and cities expand, the amount of available land that is not located close to an area of habitation is becoming increasingly scarce. Because of this, any new landfill site is likely to come under pressure from local residents as soon as it is proposed.
These concerns, as well as rising costs such as the Landfill Tax and the cost of complying with legislation on controlling/preventing hazardous waste from being stored on the landfill site means that this method of waste disposal is becoming increasingly unattractive, necessitating the need for alternative ways of eliminating waste.
As an alternative to landfill, some waste is incinerated to get rid of it. Not only does it mean it does not take up space like it does in landfill (once it's burnt it's gone!), but it also destroys hazardous material such as medical waste which could pose a danger in a landfill site, particularly in poorer nations where it is common for children to scour through rubbish piles looking for anything of value or potential use. Any steam given off can also be used to generate electricity, and the process can produce by-products such as ash which can be used in road building.
However, there are also downsides to incinerating waste, including harmful gasses and emissions released into the atmosphere, not to mention the high capital costs required to construct and operate a waste incineration plant which needs to comply with the country's environmental health and safety legislation.
Recycling and efficient use of resources plays a vital part in reducing further damage to the environment. Environmental training combined with increased awareness of how decisions and actions can impact upon the environment is essential for employees of the modern business, with qualifications such as the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate catering for this growing demand. For more information on this NEBOSH Course please click here, or click the "Health & Safety Training" option from the menu at the top of the page to see the complete list of NEBOSH courses that we offer.
Landfill and the Environment
Similar to sewage treatment facilities, landfill sites are one of those things which everybody needs and uses in terms of their rubbish finding its way to them, but which nobody wants near them. This is because despite their uses, there are a number of negative aspects associated with them.
Landfill sites have existed, albeit in smaller forms, for thousands of years. One of the simplest forms of waste disposal, people have been removing undesirable rubbish away from where they live and dumping it out of sight where it can decay naturally. This worked fine up until recent times where the boom in population has meant that in many countries there is little open space left upon which to site a landfill rubbish site without it affecting somebody living nearby. Also, the increased population and greater number of products available than ever before (and their associated packaging material) means that a far greater quantity of waste is being produced compared to previous generations. As a result, landfill sites have needed to increase in both their size and number, which again can put authorities into conflict with local residents.
Landfill sites can be unpopular with residents as they often have the following attributes associated with them:
Visual Impact - Landfill sites are eyesores, and the fact that they are situated away from populated areas as much as possible means that they will nearly always be built in an area of natural beauty, which is not popular with people.
Smell - Decaying rubbish stinks, and the smell given off is extremely unpleasant for those unfortunate enough to be downwind of the site.
Vermin and Scavengers - A lot of the rubbish sent to a landfill site is uneaten foodstuffs which will attract creatures such as rats and foxes to the area searching for things to eat. These can then visit nearby houses, which does not go down well with the human inhabitants!
Methane Gas - Decaying rubbish also produces methane gas which if not properly controlled through monitoring and venting if necessary can cause explosions, not to mention other risks to the health of people living nearby.
Traffic and Noise - Landfill sites will be frequently visited by large trucks which deliver their cargo to the site. There is also likely to be machinery on the site which is used for tasks such as moving or compacting the rubbish deposited there. All of this machinery can contribute to an increase in noise and traffic levels which will both disturb and annoy local residents.
Company Waste Reduction and Recycling
Companies have known for many years now of how their environmental impact can affect their brand image and reputation, along with the increasing importance of providing environmental health and safety training to their workforce. A failure to take their environmental responsibilities seriously can these days lead to the downfall and ruin of any organisation, or at the very least a substantial drop in sales and hefty regulatory fines.
Along with preventing accidents and environmental disasters such as oil spills, businesses can substantially reduce their environmental impact through initiatives like recycling materials and reducing the amount of waste produced in the first place. In fact, the amount of waste can be reduced simply through recycling it. Many factories now put their off cuts or rejected units back to good use rather than just throwing them away, such as melting them down to add to the raw material input, or even burning it to produce heat or electricity which is then used to power part of the production line or even just to heat the building.
Costs will vary greatly for different businesses to implement such changes, but once they have been made it is likely that over the long term a reduction of waste and the recycling of what would otherwise have been thrown out will result in significant financial savings for the company, not to mention increasing its green credentials which should give its brand image a boost amongst consumers. So not only does the environment benefit, but companies will also enjoy lower costs and increased sales revenue from impressed consumers. This is an example of how rather than being a costly inconvenience, environmental considerations can be a tremendous benefit to a company.
Why is More Not Recycled by Businesses?
We have already mentioned above and in other articles including "Correct Disposal of Waste" that along with protecting the environment, businesses can make significant financial savings through reducing waste and recycling. With this in mind, it begs the question as to why some businesses do not recycle, and why those that do so already do not recycle even more.
The most prominent reason is human apathy and laziness. It is simply far easier to throw something in the general waste bin than it is to walk over to a dedicated recycling container, despite it often being just across the room, and even more so when the item requires separating before recycling, e.g. having to open and remove the cellophane wrapper from junk mail before putting the paper contents into the paper and cardboard recycling bin.
Places of work such as construction sites are likely to want to clear away material such as old bricks and rubble as quickly as possible and throw them away so that work can continue with as little disruption as possible, when this material can often be re-used and recycled for other uses. Unfortunately this is often done with an eye towards health and safety regulations as items lying about or stored in the way can be a trip hazard of cause serious injury if they are piled high.
Many businesses will be doing work for clients and then invoicing them for it plus additional expenses. This means that all too often a business will simply buy new materials and throw away any old ones and just bill the customer for the work. A lot of consumers will also view recycled products as being inferior or not as good as brand new items and will demand that everything is new, again limiting the scope and prospects for recycling.
Whilst businesses may not be able to change the attitude of clients and customers very easily when it comes to encouraging them to accept recycled products, where they can have an influence is over their own employees in terms of minimising the amount of waste produced by them and increasing the levels of recycling. This can be done through training and educating employees about the importance of recycling as far as the planet and the environment is concerned, as well as enforcing procedures for the strict segregation of different types of items into the correct bins (e.g. paper and cardboard in one, metal in another and so on). Many health and safety courses such as the NEBOSH General Certificate will teach the importance of recycling and environmental considerations, whilst those who attend NEBOSH Environmental Certificate courses will definitely understand why businesses should recycle as much as possible.
Next Environmental Health And Safety Steps
As environmental considerations and environmental legislation have grown in prominence over the past decade or so, there is now a greater need than ever to assess how your organisation and the actions of your employees affects the local environment. As a result, there are a number of health and safety courses and qualifications which deal with environmental issues. Along with the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate and the NEBOSH Environmental Diploma, many other qualifications now contain elements or units which focus on the environment and the potential impact of workplace activities upon it, including the CITB/ConstructionSkills SMSTS qualification and IOSH Managing Safely courses.
We also provide bespoke environmental health and safety training courses if you have a group of employees requiring training and need a course which is tailored to how their specific actions and workplace activities can be altered to limit their impact upon the environment. For more information, please call us on 0844 800 3295 or send us an online contact form with a brief description of your requirements by clicking on the "Contact" tab at the top of the page.
Related Internal Pages Regarding Waste
Please use the links below to read more about the topic of waste with regards to environmental health and safety: