We are consumers and as the human population continues to grow (to 9.6 billion by 2050), we will produce ever-larger amounts of waste.

If our consumption rate is to remain sustainable, we will have to put a great deal more thought into how we use materials, what we do with products once we’re finished with them, and who it is our waste management systems are designed to serve.

The New Economy has partnered with Molok to present a guide to modern waste management, its challenges, its problems and its solutions.

Experts from Molok explain how their product is helping to create cleaner, quieter and happier living spaces around the world

Veikko Salli, a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur for over 20 years, was looking out of his office window. What he saw was a pile of trash being spread by wind, birds and critters – the rubbish was not being contained in the large roll-off bin that had its heavy lids wide open. This was at the back of Salli’s hotel, right behind the restaurant kitchen where meals were being prepared for the guests. What insanity! There had to be a better way to keep the environment and people’s surroundings clean and hygienic – after all, was that not the purpose of waste management?

As if this were not enough to cause frustration, the emptying of the container defied reason – a heavy truck came to pick up the bin, drove to the landfill where it emptied its load, and then hauled the empty container back to its place. So much back and forth traffic on a daily basis – something more sensible had to be out there somewhere.

A mother and daughter use a Molok Deep Collection System in a residential setting

This was all back in the 1980s and led to Salli’s discovery that, despite a lot of research having been conducted into more efficient forms of waste management, almost no new ways of improving collection containers or the ways waste was handled had been developed anywhere in the world for decades. What changes there had been were focused on improving equipment and methods for business – not for people or the environment. Salli discussed this with his wife, who gave him the spark of an idea: “Why can’t a waste container be underground, just like sewers are?” she asked. “You are a smart man, why don’t you come up with something? I know you can.”

Salli spent years on research and development, and was rewarded when several countries granted him a patent on a new method of collecting waste: Molok Deep Collection was going to revolutionise the industry. The year was 1991 and Molok was born.

How the molok deep collection system works

The system is tidy, hygienic and traps odours

Working with the laws of nature

The Molok system is brilliant in its simplicity. It follows the laws of every country in the world: the laws of nature. Because the container is partly underground, the temperature keeps the waste cool during the warm months, significantly reducing odours; during the winter months of the northern hemisphere, the earth acts as an insulator so the bottom of the container doesn’t freeze. Unlike in conventional aboveground bins, where the capacity is horizontal, in the Molok system the capacity is vertical, allowing the waste to be compacted naturally by the forces of gravity. Also, new waste is always covering old waste, reducing odours and increasing compaction. This means the containers have to be emptied far less frequently than their aboveground counterparts – sometimes not for nine or 10 months. With the help of these two basic laws of nature – underground temperature and gravity – Molok is solving waste-related issues around the world.

The system stores waste underground, reducing and trapping odours

The ingenious emptying method adds significant benefits to the system: containers are emptied with an articulated crane that can reach areas (e.g. narrow alleyways, restricted access areas enclosed with fences, locations with delicate landscaping) not always accessible by other collection methods. The containers can be installed in places where they are most convenient and accessible for people of all ages and abilities – because it is people, not the waste collection equipment, who should determine the location. Together with this emptying method, the fact two-thirds of the container’s height is below the ground means the Molok system offers significant space savings not available to conventional methods. The space saved can be used for other purposes, such as parking, playgrounds, extra building space or landscaping.

Moloks are custom-built to fit each location in which they are installed

Because the containers are emptied by lifting the inner container from the main ‘well’ and the contents are released through the bottom of the inner container, there is never any moving or tipping of the main container. Tipping is the way conventional waste containers are emptied and results in unpleasant odours and unhygienic conditions: ‘escaped’ pieces of waste material litter the surrounding area and liquid ends up dripping onto the sides of the containers, attracting insects and other pests. Molok’s emptying method means the main unit is never moved once installed, resulting in a decades’ long lifespan.

Sustainable waste management

Sustainability is of the utmost importance in today’s world and it has always been one of the main focuses at Molok. As mentioned above, Molok containers last decades; units installed 25 years ago are still in use today, and the modern product has gone through years of R&D, resulting in even better quality and design. This is an aspect that is important to take into consideration when calculating the lifetime value of not only the product but also the entire waste management system when using Molok Deep Collection; due to the longevity of the Molok container, its cost is only a fraction of the overall value.

People are slowly moving to the top of the pyramid, pushing the waste businesses to the bottom

Reducing greenhouse gases is a priority of all responsible governments, and Molok can be an important tool when those governments are designing sustainable, environmentally conscious cities that are also pleasant to live in. Because the emptying of Molok containers is very quiet, it does not add to the noise pollution – picture a world where noisy and polluting waste trucks are not part of the rush-hour traffic, slowing everyone down and creating hazardous situations with their frequent stops. On top of quiet trucks and a quiet emptying method, the whole waste collection process can be done at night, when most of the city’s residents are asleep.

1991 Year Molok was founded 60% of the system is underground

Taking this thought even further, one realises that, when planning cities and buildings, waste creates many demands, including its storage (i.e. aesthetics, cleanliness, location) and emptying (trucks’ turning radius and approach, sight lines for backing up, etc). Utilising the Molok system, a clean, aesthetically pleasing and safe area can be designed with the focus on the needs of people and environment.

There are many countries in the world that still do not have any type of waste management system in place. Countless other so-called developed countries do have systems, but ones that have mainly been driven by businesses, not by the people who use those systems. Imagine a pyramid where the waste industry is on top, developing their business: these companies tell the different levels of government, which sit in about the middle, how their systems work so the governments can then dictate to their residents, on the bottom of the pyramid, what they must do.

5-10x Greater capacity than conventional surface bins 2.3m2 Surface space taken up by a Molok container

Thankfully, as people have become more knowledgeable about environmental issues, they have realised they can have a voice and a powerful opinion in what happens and how. They now know there are options and that they can tell their governments how they want certain things to be done.

People are slowly moving to the top of the pyramid, pushing the waste businesses to the bottom. However, those businesses have also realised they must be able to provide better services, and the best have been turning their focus from solely looking at their own profits to how they can stay profitable while thinking about the above-mentioned end user. Being on the bottom of the pyramid is not a bad thing – on the contrary, responsible organisations receive valuable information from above and use this information to serve the people. Listening to people has always been the most important point for Molok when developing its products.

Moloks can be installed in creative ways and need not look like bins at all

However, Molok is not a company that just manufactures a ‘garbage can’: it is a company that wants to be involved in all aspects of the waste industry while being in close relationships with governments and people. This does not mean wanting to do everything from manufacturing the product to emptying it and ‘running the world’, but working together with people in order to create solutions – whether in Finland or India, above the Arctic Circle or around the equator. The Molok system exists and succeeds because people like it. This is what Veikko Salli, now 80-years young, continues to emphasise whenever he talks about his brainchild anywhere in the world.

The circular economy model offers some solutions to waste use, but not all

We live in a world where the environment and people’s carbon footprint are of increasing concern. Our industrial and consumer economy is said to be overly wasteful, to the detriment of the planet. And as economic growth around the world continues apace, and more of humanity is brought into the fold of the industrial-consumer economy, this is only set to increase. In response to this, the idea of the circular economy has been touted as a way of minimising the environmental impact of our industrial production and consumption habits.

As resources supposedly dwindle, a circular economy, it is argued, is vital; it would decouple growth from resource constraints. As the success of the global economy grows, the world’s middle class is predicted to grow by an extra two and a half billion by 2050. Many argue this will mean the world will face growing virgin resource constraints: circular economies could alleviate any problems arising from that. A circular economy fully implemented by 2030 could generate a primary resource benefit of €0.6trn per year, and €1.2trn in non-resource and externality benefits.

Squaring the circle

The basic idea behind the circular economy is that resources are used, and reused, to their maximum safe and productive ability. Rather than old components of certain goods being discarded following the end of the life cycle of a particular product, new uses are found for the components of the product or the product itself. Proponents of the circular economy argue we have, since the Industrial Revolution, opted for a linear economic model. In this sort of economy, we follow a model of take-make-dispose: resources are taken from the earth, used to make a product, and then, once the product’s life cycle is over, it is discarded. This, it is said, leads to not only the overuse of the Earth’s resources, but also means ever growing landfill sites.

While reusable products may save certain resources, their production could end up using more energy

The circular economy proposes a new attitude is adopted, and a new model put in place. Goods are taken and used from the earth, but not disposed of once the product reaches the end of its life cycle: what is left over, if possible, is reused. This would mean producers must start to think of the resources their products are composed of as assets themselves, which can either be maximised in use – through reuse – or sold on, for use in a new product, circulating within the economy.

Products being sorted for reuse and recycling. While the circular economy could save certain resources, such reclamation processes could create greater energy demands

This idea would require businesses to begin producing products with the requirements of the circular economy in mind. Products would have to be designed by businesses with the idea that they would either be reused or their components recovered. This, however, should not be a burden on business or a squeeze on profits. Moving from a linear economy, it is argued, is not only good for the environment, it is also meant to be good for business. Adopting circular economy methods, according to a report by McKinsey, could save European manufacturers $630bn by 2025.

THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY €0.6trn Potential annual primary resource benefit €1.2trn Potential non-resource and externality benefits €630bn Potential saving to European manufacturers by 2025

Breaks in the loop

Yet the idea of a circular economy should be approached with some scepticism; products designed for the circular economy can potentially be more costly for the environment, principally because it creates greater energy demands than producing non-renewable versions. Energy, of course, is primarily derived from burning fossil fuels – and this creates its own environmental costs. While reusable products may save certain resources in the long term, their production could end up using more energy than non-reusable versions if the product is more complex.

At the same time, the process behind sorting and dismantling parts or products for reuse within the circular economy will require greater energy use. Many of the proponents of the circular economy cite the number of jobs the sorting process will create – but powering the plants, factories and workshops in which the dismantling and sorting processes will take place will increase the net energy demand of the product’s life cycle. Likewise, the transportation of parts for reuse will also mean greater energy costs; if an item is produced in China, but comes to the end of its life cycle in North America, reuse or reclamation could mean transporting it all the way back across the world again.

Of course, all these issues will vary from product to product; the circular economy model will be correct for specific businesses, but for others it will not. To wholesale adopt a circular economy model is to jump the gun. Product waste is an issue that the world will have to face – yet doing away with waste altogether is neither feasible nor desirable. Alongside the recycle and reuse solutions that can be adopted in part, smart waste management solutions are also needed.

Landfills are the most popular means of waste disposal in the world. While there are good reasons for that, they also have significant shortcomings

Since the age of industrialisation, the world’s waste problem has only escalated. Instead of following the example of nature, where all things are consumed, decomposed or converted into something else in an endless and innocuous cycle, modern civilisation introduced waste disposal as a workable solution. In part, this was due to the creation of new materials and products, which simply would not biodegrade. A throwaway culture that began after the Second World War quickened the rate at which waste built up even further.

In recent decades, several solutions have been presented to governments around the world, ranging from incineration or combustion, to composting, recovery and recycling. The most common form of waste management, however, is the use of landfills. To take the world’s two biggest economies as examples: in the US, there are around 2,000 operational landfills, while hundreds more are now at full capacity; in China, there are over 1,000 unregulated landfills in Beijing alone, which are a leading cause of the capital’s severe environmental issues.

Hole in one

Essentially, a landfill is a cavernous underground hole into which waste is tipped and buried. A major advantage of using landfills is that, once they are full to the brim, the space can be reclaimed for other purposes. Moreover – and of increasing significance in today’s power-hungry world – the contents of landfills can be used to produce sustainable energy.

As landfills are found in various types of areas and landscapes, there are numerous techniques available to tackle issues relating to toxicity and odour: sprayers, either fixed or portable, can release odour neutralisers directly onto the working area and its surroundings; soil or a soil alternative can also be used as a cover to seal the waste at the end of each working day, which can also help reduce odours.

2,000 Currently operational landfills in the US 20-30% of waste remains after incineration

While there are arguments that valuable space within landfills is taken up by items that can be recycled, in well-designed landfills waste can be processed beforehand, so that all recyclable material is extracted. Likewise, organic waste can be separated and used for composting purposes, providing a solution to agricultural issues, such as poor soil quality. Moreover and, most impressively, advanced landfills can even capture the methane or natural gas that is produced underground by decomposing material.

The shortcomings

Despite their popularity across the globe and recent advancements in technology, there are several drawbacks to waste disposal through landfills. If a landfill is poorly built, leakages of toxic chemicals are bound to take place. When this happens, harmful materials spread into the surrounding areas, which can then come into direct contact with people and animals. There have even been cases where landfill toxins have seeped into water systems and poisoned an area’s water supply. A toxic environment can be made even worse when rodents and insects, both of which are naturally attracted to waste and landfills, carry the contaminants further afield. The effect on human health for local communities in such scenarios is overwhelming.

A throwaway culture quickened the rate at which waste built up even further

Then there is the issue of the land itself. First, a lack of viable space is becoming a huge problem around the world; as the pressure for land around major industrial and residential hubs becomes ever greater, landfills find themselves competing for space with multiple other industries.

>1,000 Unregulated landfills in Beijing

Secondly, the degradation of land is becoming an intractable threat to the environment, which has long-term repercussions we cannot really comprehend. What we do know at present, however, is that deforestation compromises tree covers, which in turn disturbs the natural rain cycle and so can cause erratic rainfall and even flash floods. Consequently, deforestation for large-scale projects – including landfills – leads to an imbalance of the atmosphere, which is connected to global warming.

Land degradation also endangers local wildlife; countless species are now under threat as a result of the destruction of their natural habitats. Ultimately, the outcome is an onslaught to natural ecosystems, which is exacerbated when animals and vegetation consume landfill chemicals that fill the land and air. When it comes to this concoction of toxins, the arguments become even stronger, particularly as the most dangerous gas emitted by landfills is methane, an odourless, colourless greenhouse gas that is twice as strong as carbon dioxide in terms of heating the Earth’s atmosphere.

And this is all before we’ve even taken into account the aesthetic considerations: landfills can ruin a landscape and its beauty beyond comprehension.

The alternatives

Clearly, landfill is not the best choice available when it comes to waste management systems, but it is the go-to option because of its efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Of course, there are numerous cases when the waste headed for the deepest darkest depths of a landfill is properly processed beforehand: this means both recyclables and organic waste are separated for use elsewhere, making the system considerably more sustainable.

Separation is itself a problem as too few facilities are capable of handling high volumes of organics

Separating organics from the waste stream is a particularly hot issue at the moment because landfills are starting to reach their full capacity. Both governments and the waste industry are charged with the challenge of stretching the lifetime of landfills, which many argue can be achieved through the separation of organic waste. That said, such separation is itself a problem as too few facilities are capable of handling high volumes of organics, while many systems that can use the end product efficiently are not yet in place. The reality is most landfills are simply massive holes that are filled with any and all kinds of waste. And that is a problem.

There are alternative methods of waste disposal to landfill: incineration and combustion allow waste to be converted into residue and gases. Although these methods help remove waste, 20 to 30 percent of the original volume is still present – which must then be disposed of in a landfill.

Fortunately, technology is starting to fill the gap between societal demands, as well as changing the way we interact with our environment. Importantly, for some products this will mean adopting principles of the circular economy, while for others it will mean ensuring waste can break down without endangering or inconveniencing neighbouring communities (see page 4). The best form of waste disposal depends on finding innovative ways to ensure everything goes back into the cycle in some form or another – just as it does in nature.

The issue of textiles and waste management in many ways exemplifies our current predicament when it comes to reimagining waste as a resource

The rise of fast fashion has made textiles both more affordable and more disposable, and the likes of H&M, Inditex and Arcadia have tapped into a new breed of consumer for whom high volume, cut-price versions of catwalk items are the standard. According to the Ethical Fashion Forum, fashion houses offer up to 18 collections a year and it appears the market for low cost products, otherwise known as the ‘value end’, is booming, its size having doubled in five years. The upshot is that trends change in weeks not months, and the brands themselves have been forced to respond with faster clothing cycles and cheaper products.

$1.2trn Value of the textile and apparel industry

This movement – as much as it has democratised an elitist industry – has turned clothes into here today, gone tomorrow items, as opposed to something you treasure forever. Women in 2006 had four times as many clothes as they did in 1980, and the squeeze on workers means the lion’s share of production has shifted to the developing world. The increasingly globalised nature of the value chain and the journey made by products from sweatshop to high street means the apparel sector has been turned upside down.

A jumper made from recycled plastic bottles

Affordability is clearly one reason shoppers have taken to the trend, while a near-constant supply of clothes throughout the seasons means these same shoppers can swap in and out at their leisure. Fashion – particularly fast fashion – demands little of the consumer. However, its consequences – and there are many – are mostly invisible to the end user, and the impacts – environmental or otherwise – disproportionately affect those on the lowermost links of the supply chain.

The race to the bottom means manufacturing has migrated to countries where wages are low and regulations loose. The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh, for example, and the over 1,100 resulting fatalities, underlined the pressures on factory owners to cut costs wherever they can. However, it isn’t just the human costs that warrant attention, but the environmental ones also.

Waste mismanagement

As much as the make and use phases of consumption are sore points, it’s in the end of life phase where the most work is being done to shrink the sector’s environmental impact. US fashion designer Eileen Fisher caused a stir in 2015 when she announced to an audience in Manhattan that her industry was the second largest polluter on the planet.

Bleaching, dyeing and finishing require excessive levels of energy and water, while causing yet more pollution

Landfill sites pollute local groundwater supplies, in part through the bleaches and dyes found in thrown-away clothing, and the toxic water that collects at the pit of these sites is comparable to raw sewage. Critics say the reuse of existing materials, as opposed to the production of raw materials, not only alleviates some of the environmental issues, but also goes some way towards making the clothing and apparel industry more efficient. Bleaching, dyeing and finishing, for example, require excessive levels of energy and water, while causing yet more pollution.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the average American discards around 70 pounds of clothing each year, with around 85 percent of it destined for landfill. Of the remaining 15 percent, 45 is resold to second-hand dealers, 30 is cut up for rags, 20 is shredded for alternative purposes and the remaining five is treated as waste. The picture here points to a patchwork of recycling systems, which, while successful in some parts, fail to address the root cause of the problem.

Crucially, the $1.2trn textile and apparel industry is built on a linear supply chain, and the make-use-dispose model of economics we have all come to know and take for granted has not only squeezed the average lifespan of clothing but also made it more disposable.

China’s textile industry, for instance, churns out 41.3 million tonnes of fibre a year and accounts for 53 percent of global production, yet millions of tonnes go to waste either as offcuts or because they have been dyed incorrectly. According to Environmental Leader, 234 tonnes of textiles went into landfill in Hong Kong in 2010, while in the UK customers left around $46.7bn of unworn clothes lying in their wardrobes.

Recycling the sales pitch

A growing number of organisations are pushing to improve sustainability in the clothing life cycle by bringing together actors from industry, government and the third sector. The aim for all parties is first to reduce the use of resources and second to alter consumer behaviour and extend – perhaps indefinitely – the longevity of individual items of clothing.

In the UK, it is estimated 50 percent of the over one million tonnes of textiles thrown away each year are recyclable, yet only 25 percent are reused or recycled. The reasons for this boil down to the view – prevalent among businesses and consumers both – that clothes can be discarded without consequence. After all, more than half the population of most developed nations neglect to recycle or reuse their clothes.

CHINA'S TEXTILE INDUSTRY 41.3m Tonnes of fibre a year 53% of global production

In response, efforts to incorporate eco or recycled fabrics are growing increasingly common. The likes of Patagonia, Armani, and Marks & Spencer are using polyester made from recycled drinks bottles, while more obscure efforts, such as Adidas’ ‘eco-sneakers’, incorporate ocean waste and illegal fishing nets. Others such as Dutch aWEARness and London-based LMB, while not necessarily household names, have made it their mission to close the loop entirely. The former makes clothes from 100 percent recyclable polyester, using 95 percent less water, 64 percent less energy and 73 percent lower carbon emissions during production than standard cotton, while the latter runs a 360-degree textile recycling service.

As much as these cases and others offer proof that companies are beginning to take heed of the threats of improper waste management, it’s only recently that consumers have been encouraged – if not directly incentivised – to play a part.

Closing the loop

The textile and apparel industry is one of the most polluting on Earth, but there are those companies taking the lead on circular economy principles. This is a new way of approaching raw materials and it, together with an emphasis on output recovery, has given rise to recyclable and all-round more sustainable products.

Fast fashion titan and industry stalwart H&M is approaching 100 percent circularity and harbours ambitions to ‘close the loop’. The brand in 2015 collected over 12,000 tonnes of garments – equivalent to over 60 million T-shirts – from shoppers to rewear, reuse or recycle. Levi Strauss does the same by encouraging its customers to bring back old clothes and shoes to be reused, repurposed or recycled by it and its partner I:CO.

Should others follow suit, discarded clothes in the future will not necessarily be considered ‘waste’ but resources. For now at least, a great deal more innovation is needed if we are to improve on recycling technologies and reach 100 percent efficiency. Deficiencies aside, the textile and apparel industry is in many ways representative of how reinterpreting the concept of waste could benefit us all. With product innovation, consumer education and more oversight in the supply chain, we could soon see our clothes reincarnated time and again.

The developed world has had a century to solve the problem of waste disposal: rapid urbanisation has left many developing countries with only a few decades to do the same

While the modern world is very good at making things, there’s still a lot to be desired when it comes to getting rid of them. Often a costly and complex process, waste disposal standards around the world vary greatly depending on the time and money available to local officials. Especially in low and middle-income countries that have seen a rapid expansion of urban centres, waste disposal is often underdeveloped and ineffective, but progress is being made.

According to the World Bank’s 2012 Urban Development Series paper What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management, waste disposal is the most important service a municipal government can provide. It is also often the biggest cost lower to middle-income cities have to contend with, and is usually seen as a prerequisite for dealing with more complex issues. If a city can’t manage its waste, it’s probably going to struggle with more complex services like transport and education.

Making sure waste is disposed of correctly is also usually cheaper than the costs that would go along with not properly managing it; keeping rubbish off the street is an easier task than eradicating the disease and pestilence that can follow.

It’s a fundamental service the modern world expects, and how a city manages waste has a significant impact on many elements of life. It’s a lesson cities have learnt over the many years urban development has expanded.

The evolution of waste management

Waste disposal as we know it today is not that much older than the electric grid. The Industrial Revolution, along with accelerating the creation of products, prompted the generation of a lot more waste. In 1842, a report in Great Britain connected the amount of waste in the streets to public health, and in 1848 the Public Health Act began regulating its disposal. Across the Atlantic Ocean at around the same time, New York also began waging a war against people leaving dead animals in the street.

It was in 1895 that New York launched the first comprehensive system of public sector garbage management in the US: 2,000 street cleaners dressed in white, known as ‘White Wings’, were hired to clear the streets of waste and take it to dumping sites. Modern waste disposal and the more complex and organised systems we now expect began to develop at the turn of the century. By 1910, almost 80 percent of American cities had some form of organised municipal waste disposal.

In the modern world, the majority of waste in the world is disposed of in landfills (see page 10). Landfills, where waste is compacted, layered and safely stored underground have won out over open-air dumps, which breed disease and attract pests. Incineration is also a popular option among wealthier nations, alongside recycling programmes. Although, as noted by the What a Waste report, data in this area is notoriously difficult to come by since many countries don’t monitor their waste at a national level.

In terms of modern waste management, containing waste is key. Disposal organisations need to make sure waste is stored inside a closed container when waiting for collection. This is important to preventing waste becoming waterlogged or set on fire, and that it is kept away from vermin. Making sure the waste is collected regularly is also important to ensuring local health is maintained.

Antony Waste Handling Cell has partnered with Molok to improve waste management in Delhi

But even the most modern systems have a significant amount of room for improvement. While recycling is an excellent solution when recyclables are separated from general waste, they often are not. ‘Wet’ waste, as in organic matter or food waste, and ‘dry’ recyclables become a lot more difficult to reuse if not separated at their source; recyclables that are recovered from wet waste tend to be contaminated, often making finding a market for the recycled end product a hard task.

<50% Waste collected in developing nations

The necessity for these waste management systems largely stems from the development of cities; inner city residents tend to produce more waste because they are generally wealthier and purchase more products from shops. As cities gradually grew, so too did their waste systems.

The world’s population is shifting to urban centres at an increasingly rapid rate, naturally leading to a swift increase in the amount of waste produced. While cities such as London and New York have spent 100 years perfecting their urban waste disposal systems, countries like China and India have not.

Waste in the developing world

In low-income nations, waste management services are often lacking. While generally producing less waste per capita than their wealthier counterparts, collection is often more sporadic and inefficient. As estimated by the What a Waste working paper, overall collection of waste in low-income countries is under 50 percent; an informal scavenging population selling what they can find frequently replaces a formal recycling system. Very little state-supported composting is undertaken despite the large amount of organic waste being produced, and incineration isn’t used because of the high cost associated with it.

China is a perfect example of what happens when modernisation and rapid urbanisation outpace waste management systems. Over the past 30 years, the country’s urban population has expanded by 500 million, with now over half the population considered urban dwellers. By 2030, the World Bank estimates up to 70 percent of the population of China could be living in the country’s megacities. This naturally presents a wealth of urban infrastructure challenges, with disposal of waste being one of them. With landfills at their breaking point, burning waste is becoming a primary source of disposal – although in many places it’s a contentious issue, since no one wants to live near the smokestacks of a waste disposal incinerator.

Waste caught ablaze in January 2016, shrouding Mumbai in smog

India is another country facing an increased burden in terms of waste disposal. Especially in poorer areas, collection services can be highly infrequent. In the Mumbai suburb of Deonar, home to the city’s largest dumping ground, waste caught ablaze in January 2016, shrouding the city in smog. It was a disaster that could have been avoided with better management systems.

Despite the challenges, there have been some successful efforts in improving the waste collection and management in India. One of the three waste collection and waste transfer station operators in Delhi is Antony Waste Handling Cell. As per an agreement signed in 2010, waste operators are now better resourced and equipped, replacing older systems where dumpsters were emptied by hand.

Managing that waste before it is collected is equally important. In order to improve waste storage, Antony Waste Handling Cell engaged Molok to supply an underground waste storage system. Bins extend deep into the earth, allowing waste to compact under its own weight while keeping it away from the public. The contents of the bin are regularly lifted out of the ground by crane and emptied into a receiving truck.

By storing a large amount of waste in a relatively small footprint, the bins keep contamination of the surrounding area at a bare minimum. Since underground solutions can store more than the average above-ground dumpster, they also need to be emptied less regularly, offering potential savings to municipal organisations that find waste collection a significant part of their bills.

As urban centres continue to expand, particularly in the developing world, more and more people are going to be straining the waste collection services of local associations. As the demand for waste disposal increases, the need for more innovative solutions such as underground bins increases.