This module's objective is to provide a space for reflection on generation and waste management, as well as on the environmental implications resulting from their inadequate management. The environmental integration of socioeconomic activities, and therefore the approach to a more sustainable development, will occur when we become aware (and act accordingly) that territories have limited capacity to take on waste generated by these activities.
In order to achieve this objective this module is presented in three sections:
The first section is an approximation to the concept of waste, the type of waste products and their classification. The second section analyses the generation and management of a type of waste that everyone generates in a greater or lesser degree: municipal waste (household and equivalent). Finally, the third section deals with the analysis of other waste, such as agricultural waste with livestock manure, construction waste and industrial waste, which includes nuclear waste.
All human activities, including the purely biological, can generate by-products that may have no value and that in turn can be harmful to human health, as well as plant and animal life and the environment in general. If we do not want to run the risk of creating a serious environmental problem, we must carry out proper management of all these substances that, together, we call waste. Currently waste (or what to do with waste) is one of the most serious environmental problems, a problem that is worsening. The spectacular increase in its generation has occurred in parallel with industrial development and the increase of society's income level and quality of life.
The eighth principle of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development also refers to the generation of waste and its management when it says: "To achieve sustainable development and improved quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable production and consumption systems (...). "
Taking this principle into account, we must also consider as unsustainable production and consumption systems, those that generate enormous amounts of waste and which prevent the environmental integration of human activities on the territory, namely those that generate and introduce more waste than the territory can take on.
At this point we face a series of questions:
a) What is waste?
c) Does everyone generate the same amount and same type of waste?
d) What are the potential impacts of waste on the environment?
e) How to manage generated waste?
The following sections will attempt to answer these questions. The high degree of subjectivity will be evident when defining what waste is, the difficulty in achieving a single classification of waste, the fact that not all societies nor all individuals within a society generate the same amount of waste or the same type of waste, that waste can be a major source of environmental degradation and that more appropriate management of waste eliminates some of the potential impacts, minimizes others and creates new ones. For this reason, our commitment must be to reduce the amount generated and to enhance the largest possible amount of it by reusing or recycling. Reduce, reuse and recycle, the triple R, are the three pillars to address the environmental problem created by a proliferation of increased waste. From the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) three more R’s are added: rethink products and their features, replace and repair dangerous substances (designing how to facilitate the repair and how to extend the product's life).
The module concludes with a section devoted to conclusions, a short questionnaire evaluating the understanding of its contents and a final section devoted to bibliography and interesting links.