Waste management education

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Despite its importance in terms of preserving a clean and healthy environment for citizens, waste management has historically suffered from a poor image. Globally it has typically been viewed as dirty work in dirty and dangerous places carried out by people with little or no qualifications for little or no wages, sometimes just for subsistence on discarded materials.

This is still a widely-held view and  sadly, a daily reality for poverty-stricken families in many under-developed parts of the world. In more developed countries, people didn’t think about the processes involved in managing wastes until it became a huge, disease-spreading problem.

In these countries, waste management gradually morphed into a more publically visible industry that focused on efficient collection and disposal.

However, times have changed. In many parts of the world, the modern waste industry can lay claim to being one of the most dynamic and fast-changing business sectors.

The 21st Century has seen a substantial number of initiatives that focus on improvements to the environment, with changes in how we manage our wastes forming a part of firm foundations that are being built to facilitate the sustainable development of society.

Europe, for instance, has led these changes, with its emphasis on increased producer responsibility, waste minimization, recycling, high technology incineration and landfill management, and its long-held desire to implement the waste hierarchy.

There is now a greater requirement on the waste sector to operate to higher standards of professionalism and to incorporate best practice and new technologies in all its activities.

These changes reflect society’s desire to manage our resources better and to protect the environment, locally as well as globally. We should recognize that this does not mean demonizing the use of suitable landfills and thermal treatments for materials that may be hazardous or for which we do not have a sensible, cost-effective use other than final, safe disposal. Waste (now resource) management is a multi-disciplinary subject, incorporating: civil, electrical and mechanical engineering; physical, chemical, biological and materials sciences; environmental science and engineering; politics; economics; urban and rural planning; law; industrial ecology; social sciences; media & communications; IT; advertising; marketing; design; technology; transportation; logistics and operational management; business studies; management; and even the creative arts.

Resource management has never had a higher public profile, but its complexity is not properly recognized by a society that continues to under-value its importance to its quality of life.

There has never been a better time to consider the importance of education to waste (resource) management.

A Guest Editorial