Domestic Separation and Collection of Municipal Solid Waste: Opinion and Awareness of Citizens and Workers

A recently published excellent article by Giovanni De Feo and Sabino De Gisi of the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Salerno, analyses and compares the opinions and awareness of citizens and kerbside collection workers on domestic waste separation and how those opinions affect the waste management lifecycle. This analysis provides valuable insight to policy makers, municipal administrations and waste managers in optimising domestic waste separation schemes.

Modern society is becoming a waste society rather than a well-to-do society: the waste that people produce litters our streets and is not always in the bins. As stated in De Feo and Napoli (2005) , about 600 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) per year, corresponding to a daily production of 1.6 kg per capita, are produced in the countries of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). The generation intensity is continuously growing in these countries, with the highest values in the richest countries, testifying an indivisible link between the levels of affluence and quantity of waste produced. Waste could be considered the final product of a special production chain: wealth, consumption, waste. The wealthier the society, the greater the consumption; the greater the consumption, the more waste produced. By 2020, we could be generating 45% more waste than we did in 1995.

Figure 1 proposes the schematic life cycle of waste generation. The scheme is composed of three sections:

(1) firstly, the attention is focused on how and which wastes are generated in the production of goods;

(2) secondly, the scheme describes the citizens‘ management of goods purchased;

(3) finally, the scheme represents units, connections, and products of a MSW management system.

According to Ayres and Simonis (1994), the first part of the proposed scheme for life cycle waste generation could be referred to as ―industrial metabolism. Between economy goods management and society goods management, there is the buying phase, which is the gate to ―society metabolism. A purchased product can be used, reused, maintained, repaired and, finally, consumed, depending on its nature and composition. All the material produced can be usefully separated at home in three fractions: organic fraction (putrescibles), recyclable materials (recyclables) and residues (rest-waste fraction). In rural areas, the organic fraction (food scraps, yard trimmings) can be conveniently used to produce homemade compost for the garden (backyard composting). The domestic separation of end-use goods obliges the user to reflect on his consumption model, daily behaviour and personnel power as a consumer.

After the domestic separation phase, the resident has to transfer the separated materials to the MSW manager through the hands of collection workers. It is exactly at this stage that an end-use product changes its status and property becoming a waste. Its nature and composition remains the same. Changing the nature, the responsibility passes from the resident/user/consumer/waste producer to the waste manager. This transfer can be performed in several ways corresponding to the various waste collection models. With the collection phase, the several collection fractions enter into the MSW management system, which requires a holistic approach, encompassing a life cycle understanding of products and services. This in turn requires different specialisms to be involved in the investigation and analysis of an integrated waste management system. All over the world, communities have designed various forms of payment methods for solid waste collection services: trash bag, sticker or can/cart. Usually, environmental taxes are determined nationally and waste disposal programs are worked out by each municipality. In general, if recyclers pay consumers for recyclable items and pay higher prices for items with higher value, consumers would be willing to pay more up-front for products designed to be recyclable. One of the crucial elements of a successful MSW policy is that the competent Local Authority (municipality, district, province, etc.) has to be able to link the environment to the economy, reinforcing that they are not mutually exclusive. In this sense, MSW has to be seen as a resource. Moreover, it is essential to investigate social factors affecting the public‘s behaviour during their implementation. In the light of the theoretical analysis performed, the principal aim of this paper is to analyze and compare the opinions and awareness of citizens and kerbside collection workers on domestic separation and collection of MSW by means of two structured questionnaires in the city of Mercato San Severino (about 22,000 people), in Campania Region, in Southern Italy. It is important to point out that the Campania Region is an area suffering from a serious solid waste emergency that has lasted over 16 years [13,14]. It is the culmination of a process of the insufficient implementation of European waste legislation for which Italy has repeatedly been condemned by the European Court of Justice. In particular, the images of heaps of rubbish in the streets of Naples and other nearby cities were impressively documented by the international press. On the contrary, the municipality of Mercato San Severino has adopted an effective kerbside collection system since 2001, guaranteeing more than the minimum level of recycling required by the Italian legislation. Moreover, as explained afterwards, the municipality of Mercato San Severino adopted a pay-as-you-throw program (PAYT) during 2005 (citizens are charged for the collection of MSW based on the amount they throw away). At the same time, a MSW separated collection centre was realized. It was called an ―environmental centre. The specific objectives of the research were the following:

  1. critically evaluate the public opinion of citizens between the different areas, type of buildings, and social characteristics of the respondents (age, sex, marital status, occupation, education level);
  2. identify and explain any differences of awareness between the different areas, type of buildings, and social characteristics of the respondents;
  3. examine and evaluate the main shortcomings and suggested improvements of the separate collection system according to the respondents;
  4. evaluate what citizens think about the waste collection workers;
  5. evaluate what collection workers think about the citizens;
  6. examine and evaluate the main shortcomings and suggested improvements of the separate collection system according to the collection workers.

Read the full article here in PDF format.

Citation: De Feo, G.;De Gisi, S. Domestic Separation and Collection of Municipal Solid Waste: Opinion and Awareness of Citizens and Workers. Sustainability 2010, 2, 1297-1326.

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