With proper waste management, we will survive! 

By Roberto Ganddini 

Today’s way of life, paired with new technological innovations, necessitate the excessive consumption of various products which after use are discarded and will end up deposited in bins and landfill sites. 

It is estimated that, on average, a person creates two pounds of rubbish a day, ranging from plastics to organic waste, paper, cardboard, glass, wood etc. In Guatemala City, for example, the landfill site in Zone 3 receives the rubbish of seven million people every day. 

Waste management involves the managing, collecting, transportation, treatment, recycling, and disposal of waste materials. The term waste management refers to the waste produced by human activity, as well as more generally to efforts to reduce the effect of waste on health and the environment. 

Guatemala City features a landfill site that is both inefficient and incapable of processing all of the waste produced in the city, particularly when considering that no adequate waste management procedure exists for the treatment of all of it. 

In the country, there are 22 departments made up of 340 municipalities, within which each municipality is responsible for the management of waste produced therein, which must be done responsibly and properly. Unfortunately, at present, there are no projects in operation that adequately handle waste, much less that reuse or recycle this waste by converting it into other materials i.e., organic fertilisers, electricity and much more. 

A reasonably adequate waste management regime would begin by training the nation to separate waste into different types – organic waste, inorganic waste, plastics, aluminium and so on. 

Waste collectors would also need to be trained not to mix the different products. An ideal system would be for the waste to pass through an area to be separated and sent to different places to be reused. For example, plastics could be sent to be reused, and organic waste could be made into compost. The remainder would then be deposited in large landfills with a suitable setup, such as a cover and vent, and drainage so that contaminants do not end up in the water table, but are filtered through to special containers to be entirely buried. 

 This is no utopia, but a system that is already being used in cities larger than ours, and that works efficiently. All that needs to happen is for municipalities, as those in charge of waste management, to implement this system. 

How can we recycle plastic? In the treatment of plastics, a granulator is used to convert the plastics into small pieces, 5mm in size. The plastic grains are then mixed with an activator and used in asphalt. This ensures that the asphalt adheres correctly to the roads, thus showing how plastics can be correctly recycled utilising state-of-the-art technology. 

Reducing the emission of greenhouse gases 

There also exists the possibility that the heat energy released by incinerating waste may be used in the generation of electrical energy, by using steam to move a turbine and thereby produce electrical energy. 

The capturing of biogas emitted by landfills to generate electricity and therefore replacing hydrocarbons simultaneously improves both health and social wellbeing, due to the improvement in air quality owing to the reduction in greenhouse and other polluting gases emitted. 

It is essential that an appropriate plan is made and resources are made available for waste management, which can cease to be a risk and become a source of renewable and recyclable energy. 

The capture and use of landfill emissions facilitates the organisation of the entire chain of waste, from start to finish. This also gives the workers more dignified work and lifestyle, as it would improve their health and their income. 

I take this opportunity to share the knowledge here of Prodeso, the not-for-profit NGO that suggested these methods. I can confirm that thanks to its president Edgar Ruiz and vice-president Gilda Cerna, it is an organisation devoted to environmental projects and economic development at the national level. Prodeso seeks to transform the way municipalities handle waste management and help recycling plants to become self-sustaining, as well as creating jobs and better living conditions for the workers in this sector. 

At the same time, an exemplary plant model was analysed; designed by Prodeso, this plant fulfils a series of essential functions in the production of energy from waste materials. 

By transforming waste into electrical energy, the country wins twice… 

Waste management is a priority in our country. We can see how bodies of water are being destroyed due to the pollution caused by waste mishandling. We can also see the way natural environments such as forests, wilderness, mountains, and valleys are being destroyed by this pollution, which also destroys the food chain and causes thousands of species to die out each year. 

It is necessary to take radical measures in waste management so that we can contribute to improving our environment, and so that we can give our children a country and a planet that is safe to inhabit. 

Cover photograph: Julio Estrada, DIGI-USAC 

Roberto Ganddini worked as administrative manager of the Metropolitan University Centre (CUM) of the University of San Carlos. He has a background in agriculture and is educated in both administration and economics, as well as holding a Diploma in Sustainable Development and Disaster Prevention (FLACSO). He has also written for the University of San Carlos, focusing predominantly on environmental issues, but also social and current affairs