Garbage disposal techniques : Lessons from the world

Sri Lanka disposes of the majority of its solid waste in landfills. This practice is cheap, but it comes with hidden costs, the most recent example being the landslide at Meethotamulla.

Many low-income and developing countries use landfills in favor of recycling or incinerating garbage, since it is the most cost-effective option. Developed countries, however, dispose of garbage in myriad ways that generate electricity or keep harmful waste out of the environment.

The following are short explanations of four different countries’ methods for managing their solid waste.


Indian urban areas alone produce over 100,000 metric tonnes of trash per day, and urban local bodies (ULBs) are generally responsible for collecting, separating, and transporting this garbage. But the majority of ULBs are under-equipped and underfunded, and they struggle to fulfill their trash-related duties.

Indian cities do not charge for waste collection, which puts financial pressure on the ULBs. In order to cut costs, the ULBs rarely separate trash and only pick up garbage from comparatively small areas. Very rarely is biodegradable waste separated out, and public awareness about recycling practices is very low.

Furthermore, waste collection from dumpsites is rare, and processing of garbage is rarely carried out. The ULBs often transport waste in open trucks and dump the garbage in open areas without treating it, leading to adverse environmental and health affects.

Hordes of rag pickers, or informal workers who come from the poorest sections of society, often provide the only real recycling in India, and they are vulnerable to adverse health effects due to their work and poor conditions. These people recycle up around 20 percent of the waste generated in the cities.

Solid waste is often dumped on the outskirts of cities, and, since urban areas in India have rapidly expanded, these dumping sites have become part of cities.

India has undertaken several projects to improve its waste management practices during the past ten years, and many cities have begun implementing better techniques, such as community-based waste collection and investments in improved technology.

Bhalswa Landfill in New Delhi, India


Singapore faces particular difficulties in waste management and disposal since it simply lacks the space for massive landfills.

Though the country faced a garbage crisis in the late 1990s, by 2000, Singapore was producing 7,600 tonnes of waste per day, and its landfills were stuffed to the limit.

But in 2001, the government started a program that encouraged people to reduce the amount of waste generated, reuse what they could, and recycle the rest. On top of this, the government set up waste sorting and recycling programs for residences, schools, offices, and factories.

As of 2015, Singapore sent just 2 percent of its solid waste to landfills, recycled 60 percent, and incinerated the remaining 38 percent to generate electricity, according to the Wall Street Journal. The country boasts four waste-to-energy plants, which produce about 3 percent of the country’s electricity.

Waste sorting in Singapore


That Sweden diverts 99 percent of its waste from landfills sounds great on paper, but the reality of the country’s waste management program is a bit less rosy.

It is true that less than 1 percent of household waste ends up in landfills. The government’s assertion, however, that 99 percent of the country’s waste is recycled simply is not true.

Sweden’s waste management system relies heavily on incinerating trash in order to generate electricity and heat homes. 2.2 million tonnes of Sweden’s total of 4.4 million tonnes of annual household waste are converted to power using waste-to-energy technology. This technology burns trash to produce steam, which is then used to produce electricity. Sweden has drained its landfills of useful trash, and it has recently started importing garbage, primarily from England and Norway, to maintain its energy generation system.

The results of this practice are somewhat mixed, as it reportedly takes more energy to incinerate waste and manufacture replacements than it does to recycle and reuse. Also, the burning of trash produces a large quantity of carbon dioxide, more so than the burning of coal. Critics of the practice have complained that converting waste to energy actually makes it more difficult to implement more sustainable waste management practices. But others laud the Swedish system, saying that it solves the issues of waste buildup and energy production simultaneously.

Experts have lauded Sweden for recycling and reusing around 50 percent of its annual household waste.

Waste recycling in Sweden


Japan has some of the strictest waste sorting procedures around. In some cases, paper must be separated from envelopes, and food waste must be segregated from other biodegradable material.

Furthermore, trash sorting and collection is carried out at the municipal level, so each town has its own system. For example, Tokyo’s 23 wards have different waste-sorting systems.

You might think that sorting trash is necessary for fostering a robust recycling programme, but this is not the case; just over 20 percent of Japan’s solid waste is recycled. The lion’s share is burnt.

Japan is yet another country that depends on waste-to-energy systems to generate power. Historically dependent on nuclear power plants for electricity, Japan has increased investment in waste incineration systems to solve its energy shortages and solid waste buildup.

The average person generates around 356 kilograms of solid waste per year, and Japan produces 45,360,000 tons of municipal waste per year. Since Japan does not have much land, burning the trash has presented itself as a viable waste management solution.

Critics, however, claim that Japan can do better with recycling, as evidenced by its PET plastic bottle-recycling scheme that has reduced Japan’s need to import petroleum-based resources to make PET bottles by 90 percent. 

PET bottle recycling in Japan

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