Sustainable waste management: A follow-up

[This is a follow-up to Gary’s original post on this blog, which you can read here]

This blog post is a follow up to an earlier article concerning the move towards sustainable waste management. My final year undergraduate research thesis focused on waste management at the household level. The original focus for my thesis, as documented in the previous post was to examine households move towards sustainable waste management and their efforts in decreasing the waste they produce. My idea at that stage was somewhat vague and unspecific. After completing my review of literature regarding waste management I found a potential gap. There existed no extensive comparative review of rural and urban households. My research question centred on differences in waste management practices between rural and urban households to identify whether the location of the home mattered in determining domestic waste management.

My research area still remained in Mullingar but I now expanded into the surrounding rural area. The map shows the research area divided into three concentric zones. The zone shaded green radiated 2.5km from the town centre; it encompassed the entire urban area and acted as my urban research area. The next zone shaded red (2.5-5km) was the intermediate zone. I believed this area to be too close to the town to be considered rural enough as Mullingar was easily accessible by a 10 minute car journey. The final zone shaded in yellow (5-10km) acted as my rural research area. I encountered a problem in the rural research area with the presence of small villages that may or may not offer waste services such as bottle banks. Therefore I constructed further urban and intermediate zones around each of these villages and excluded them from the rural area as displayed.

My research methodology consisted of self-completion questionnaires that were distributed to households in both research areas and photography which was used to capture instances of illegal dumping in rural areas. The response from households to the surveys, despite a small number of slammed doors and rude “goodbyes” was largely positive. When agreeing to partake in the survey, respondents showed good awareness of sustainable waste management and the need to highlight its importance. The following is a sample of some of the main results that emerged from the analysis.

Respondents were asked if they burned waste in the home. More households in rural areas burned waste compared to their urban counterparts. A higher percentage of urban households replied to have never burned waste. Their reasons for not burning included the proximity of neighbours and complaints from neighbours. This suggests living in a rural area with lower population densities makes it easier to burn household waste. The most commonly cited materials burned included recyclable materials such as paper, plastic cartons and cardboard. Living in an urban area limits opportunities to burn, thus increasing disposal of such materials by landfill or recycling.

This project informed me that location does make a difference in determining household waste management. It is an important factor that needs to be considered when creating legislation. Examining patterns of waste management at the micro level such as the example given above, is a step towards understanding processes that operate at different scales of waste production.

Gary Nolan


One comment

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