Defining Urban Waste
Urban waste refers to household waste (garbage, glass, wrappings, plastic, cardboard, paper, woods, kitchen waste, etc.) and comparable forms of waste (such as those produced by industry and manual labor). (This is the definition used by Switzerland’s Vaux canton). Communal urban waste (produced by households) must in this way be distinguished from urban industrial waste (produced by factories).
At the risk of vast oversimplification, it can be said that there are **many theoretical and technical alternatives** that must be taken into consideration:
* Waste that is dangerous (to health or the environment) vs. waste that is not.
* Waste that is easily and quickly biodegradable vs. waste that is not.
* Waste that can be recycled though short circuits vs. waste that requires longer circuits.
* Policies that seek to reduce the quantity of waste vs. policies that recycle waste (and which supply enough waste to companies).
* And so on.
Urban is thus a rather difficult topic, one that quickly mobilizes both ecologists and managers of urban spaces.
The Role of the State or the Community
For as long as cities have existed, the question of waste has posed problems. Waste can be harmful, even causing deadly illness. Consequently, waste management first emerged in the context of the development of urban public hygiene programs, urban infrastructure work, and even population movements towards more hygienic areas, which were often far from city centers.
According to Switzerland’s Vaux canton, the role of the state in waste management is fourfold:
- To prevent waste
- To manage waste
- To use waste productively
- To eliminate waste.
In some northern countries, where the state collectively manages urban waste across long cycles, neighborhood compost piles have been established to create shorter waste management cycles. In **southern countries**, where, to the contrary, the state is not particularly active, and where individuals must find their own solutions for waste removal, experiments have proven the ability of inhabitants to organize themselves to implement longer circuits. So can NGOs, which offer comprehensive waste management programs in Asia and Africa.
The large urban dump at Yoff in Dakar, trashcans in France: throughout the world, in the north as well as the south, there are some inhabitants who currently live by feeding themselves by scavenging urban waste (city trashcans, dumpsters located near cities). Even so, some countries criminalize these practices, which for the most of those concerned are survival strategies (only a small sliver of the population resorts to these practices, out of philosophical commitment to the idea of “degrowth”).
A Social, Environmental, and Financial Issue for Current and Future Generations
“Waste management is today a genuine challenge, one that is both financial, due to the constant rise in waste management costs, and environmental, due to the risk of outlet shortages in the medium term and the squandering of natural resources.” (ADEME, 2009).
Source and further information: http://www.notre-planete.info/ecologie/dechets/dechets_0.php
Consequently, it is urgent to rethink the way we consume and manage waste, as nature does not yet have the ability to regenerate the totality of the pollutants that result from our way of living.
File translated by Michael C. Behrent – Assistant Professor – Department of History – Appalachian State University – Boone, NC 28608