The Environmental Argument

The environmental impacts associated with waste mainly result from its disposal so, generally, the less waste that needs to be disposed of, the less the environmental damage caused. Some items for disposal are made from materials which are in limited supply, so should be treated with care to ensure that valuable resources are not squandered. For this reason, the emphasis of waste management policy at a National and European level is on reducing the amount of waste produced and keeping materials in circulation for as long as possible.

There are two main disposal routes available for solid waste in the UK - incineration and landfill, both of which have environmental concerns. The actual method used will depend on a number of factors, including the availability of facilities locally and the nature of the waste to be disposed of.

The main impacts associated with poorly controlled incineration and landfill include pollution to the atmosphere (release of toxic or greenhouse gases), land surfaces and watercourses. Even accidents at well-run waste management facilities can result in similar pollution.

At an institutional level, waste storage and disposal will feature amongst the significant environmental aspects for most colleges and universities. Action to insure appropriate storage of waste on site, segregation of waste and the diversion of waste away from landfill and incineration towards recycling and composting will help to reduce institutional environmental impacts. Waste minimisation and reuse initiatives will reduce these impacts further.

On its own, the increasing amount of publicity about such pollution incidents is unlikely to be the major lever for encouraging organisations to improve their waste management practices. For most institutions it is a combination of the economic and legislative drivers that are more likely to make institutions take action!