If waste is creatively handled, is it still waste?

One of the largest problems faced by urbanisation is the creation and disposal of waste – be it solid or liquid, household or hazardous – solid waste management have always been a challenge for many cities and countries. It is also generally the assumption that government would have to be responsible for the treatment of these wastes given its significance to public health and environmental safety.

That is why it has been extremely interesting to visit numerous facilities from recycling, treatment, disposal and repurposing of solid waste on this Fellowship across Iowa and Wisconsin to explore how each city and county have been dealing with their solid wastes. Everything from recycling of material prior to landfilling, to repurposing the material (glass back into beer bottles or insulation), to incinerating them outright to generate ‘clean’ energy – the myriad of ways of waste being dealt with and the creativity behind how the organisations are formed, organised as well as their ways of remaining fiscally sustainable have been fascinating.

For countries like Malaysia, Australia and England where I’ve lived, the responsibility of collecting, treating and disposing of solid waste usually involves the local government and some parts of the process outsourced to private companies. To have observed numerous ways of Americans dealing with the same issue have opened up my eyes to the possibility of exploring more creative ways of partnering or cooperating in ensuring the solution for each city/county can be sustainable, rather than just ticking the box of ‘government having to do it all, even if it makes no financial sense’. A big thank you to John Foster of Dubuque Metropolitan Area Solid Waste Management for arranging all these visits across states and for in-depth, meaningful discourse on the various ways we can address these issues.

It is exchanges like these that allow us to all improve our ways of serving the public, especially during times of increasingly diminishing budgets and needing to do more.


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