What Is Sustainable Waste Management?

As the concept of sustainability becomes increasingly necessary, local governments, manufacturers, and even private citizens are looking at ways to reduce waste volumes and waste collection costs. Industrial waste gets a lot of attention due to its negative environmental impact and human health consequences. Still, all industries and sectors can benefit from more sustainable waste management practices.

But what exactly does sustainable waste management mean? It mainly involves the transition from the traditional make-use-dispose model of production to a more circular economy. In this economy, waste returns into the production cycle, either as new raw materials, energy, or a new product.

This shift offers plenty of benefits to manufacturers. You can save on disposal costs and materials purchases by re-using products from your waste stream. And even better, you set the stage for future generations to develop new technologies to combat global warming and leave the planet in a better state than it’s been in a while.

What Makes Sustainable Waste Management Practices So Important?

Switching to sustainable waste management makes sense for manufacturers. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions (and subsequently, the amount of carbon tax paid), promotes energy efficiency, and reduces the amount of solid waste produced annually. It even preserves natural resources and allows the manufacturer to use waste products in their production chain instead.

Here are some practical examples of how shifting away from the linear economy is vital for tackling the problems caused by our current consumption model.

Paper and Paperboard

The EPA released a report stating that the largest component of solid municipal waste is paper and paper-related products, with a staggering292.4 million tons generated in 2018. While almost 32% of this waste was recycled and composted, over 50% was sent to a landfill.

While wood tends to be a reusable natural resource, many natural forests are cleared to make way for pine plantations that disrupt the ecosystem. The paper industry also uses a massive amount of energy and water. Recycling one ton of paper saves two barrels of oil, 4,100kW of energy, and 60 pounds of CO2 emissions.

Food Waste

The second-largest contributor to municipal solid waste is food waste, which contributed 21% of the total waste in 2018. This amount corresponds to around $161 billion, or half of the total US food supply.

What makes this waste even worse is that nearly 10% of all US households suffer from food insecurity, and most wasted food is still completely suitable for human consumption. The issue has several contributing causes: excess food production, unstable markets, processing problems, and overstocking in supermarkets and grocery stores.


The last couple of years has seen an increase in awareness of the issues surrounding single-use plastics. Since plastic is considered non-hazardous waste, it doesn’t need a dedicated disposal method. Instead, it ends up in your nearest landfill or water body, where it affects the environment and ecosystem in many ways.

The issues facing plastic recycling are many. Only 8.5% of single-use plastics end up in a recycling center. Unfortunately, plastic isn’t the best option for recyclable materials since the end product is weaker and more brittle than the original. Many companies find it cheaper to overproduce plastics instead.

Any strategy targeting plastic waste needs to focus on reducing the waste volume by finding suitable alternatives better suited to our current needs.

The Characteristics of Sustainable Waste Management

A sustainable waste management system requires a lot of thought and planning. It integrates sustainable materials management with waste reduction and other methodologies to bring waste into the manufacturing cycle.

Current popular waste management techniques include:

  • Waste incineration plants
  • Landfills
  • Recycle glass, plastics, and aluminum
  • Biological cycling such as composting

It’s relatively simple to repurpose existing waste management strategies with an eye towards sustainability. Choosing the right sustainable waste management techniques will depend on the industry, type of waste material, and legislative requirements, all of which can present unique and interesting challenges.

Reducing Waste Materials

The first step to sustainable waste management is to produce less waste. If all of your waste goes into the trash bin, simply producing less will already positively impact the environment and your disposal processes.

Even small changes, like going paperless or reducing plastic packaging, are simple waste management techniques that can have sizable results.

Reducing Residuals

In many industries, reducing waste requires extensive investigation and retooling of existing processes, making waste reduction a long-term project.

The good news is that reducing residual waste by limiting collection systems is a simple way to reduce food and organic waste and kick-start sustainable waste management and collection practices.

Recycling Programs

Many products benefit from recycling services, including aluminum, paper, and some forms of plastic. Many current programs target residential and commercial properties, but the same principles apply to larger manufacturing industries.

Increasing the amount of recyclable waste going into recycling centers can reduce methane gas emissions from landfills and help produce a semi-renewable source of many important materials.

Extracting Value from Organics

Organic matter has become a hot topic in energy recovery and production. Organics are convertible into biofuel through various processes, including anaerobic digestion, landfill gas recovery, and pyrolysis. These methods are increasingly popular in industries working with organic materials, and the potential energy savings are immense.

Recovering Energy from Waste

Similar to using organics, many other waste products are suitable for energy recovery programs. Many communities are piloting solid waste energy recovery programs to reduce the strain on waste and recycling services while producing additional, low-cost power to the community.

Switching to Digital

Going paperless is increasingly common and a good starter waste management strategy.

Can Someone Else Use It?

Many industrial and commercial waste products can act as materials for other manufacturing processes. Instead of trying to recycle or reduce waste, it may be possible to sell it off to an eager buyer. Doing so benefits the environment and contributes to renewable, sustainable production loops.

Want more information on sustainable waste management strategies? Contact INGENIUM today or fill out our risk assessment form – our passion for sustainable, affordable waste management will set you on the right track towards sustainable waste management.

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