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Municipal solid waste management involves not only the reduction of environmental and health effects, but also the reduction of natural resources use. Therefore, reusing and recycling become important to reduce waste generation and its improper disposal, greenhouse gas emissions, and the use of energy and water for natural resources extraction. These actions result in significant economic, social, and environmental benefits.
As mentioned by the World Bank in its What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050 report, about 2.01 billion metric tons of municipal solid waste were produced worldwide in 2016. Moreover, the World Bank estimates that waste generation will increase to 2.59 billion metric tons by 2030 and to 3.4 billion metric tons by 2050.
Urban Solid Waste Composition
Municipal solid waste composition varies due to human activity, changing from municipality to municipality and across income and cultural levels. It can also change depending on the time of year.
Globally, food and green waste are the largest components of municipal solid waste, making up 44 percent of the total waste generated. Dry waste that could be recycled (plastic, paper, cardboard, metal, and glass) accounts for an additional 38 percent. Latin America and the Caribbean produced 231 million metric tons of waste in 2016, which represents a daily per capita generation of 0.99 kilograms.
Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources mentioned in its 2015 Environmental Report that 53.1 million metric tons of municipal solid waste were produced in the country. In other words, an average of 1.2 kilograms of waste were generated per capita each day. For this reason, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources promotes the proper and complete management of municipal solid waste through plans, regulations, and strategies, such as training, education, legislation, and communication programs, among others. Moreover, the UANL Vice Presidency of Sustainability and the Department of Environmental Management and Operational Safety initiated management plans for the different types of waste generated at our campuses. The objective is to eliminate or minimize the impact caused by improper management, complying with the existing environmental law and encouraging a culture of environmental care within the university.
Urban Solid Waste (RSU) at UANL
Due to anaerobic conditions and its decomposition process, the municipal solid waste contained produces methane, also known as biogas. The biogas flows through a special pipeline system to a bioenergy plant where it is used to fuel turbines that generate electricity. This energy is distributed and used for the public lighting of seven municipalities, five government entities, the Fundidora Park, in addition to providing energy to the collective transport system Metrorrey (urban electric train) public transportation system. Such actions are some of Mexico’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Waste Sorting and Recycling Program (PROSER)
In February 2013, the PROSER program was implemented at the Central Administration Tower and the UANL entities in the Main Campus to maximize waste utilization and minimize its potential environmental impact. To ensure the proper management and final disposal of municipal solid waste, UANL signed an agreement with local companies such as COPAMEX, Biopappel, Grupo Alen, and ECOCE A.C., which are widely experienced in waste recycling and transformation. This program operates through a collaboration network where each UANL entity separates waste into special bins to be collected and transformed by the abovementioned companies. These companies pay for the waste with recycled paper or cash, which is used for other related activities. Once the recycling or transformation process is over, the company must prepare a report on the environmental benefits obtained.
Recyclable materials (paper, cardboard, PET, and aluminum) are currently being collected at 37 schools and 17 entities, which represents an increase of 23 percent in the program’s coverage from 2018 to 2019. The participating UANL schools and entities are listed below:
|Center for Research and Development of Bilingual Education
||School of Physics and Mathematics
|Pablo Livas Industrial and Technical High School
||School of Civil Engineering
|Alvaro Obregon Industrial and Technical High School
||School of Economics
|Medical Technical High School
||School of Forestry
|High School No. 1
||School of Architecture
|High School No. 3
||School of Communication
|High School No. 4
||School of Public Health and Nutrition
|High School No. 5
||School of Visual Arts
|High School No. 7
||School of Biology
|High School No. 8
||School of Earth Sciences
|High School No. 9
||Raul Rangel Frias University Library
|High School No. 10
||Capilla Alfonsina University Library
|High School No. 12
|High School No. 13
||World Trade Center
|High School No. 14
||Center for Business Incubation and Technology Transfer
|High School No. 16
||University Printing Services
|High School No. 17
||Center for Research and Development of Health Sciences
|High School No. 19
||University Health Center
|High School No. 21
||Center for Digital Education and Entrepreneurship
|High School No. 23
||University Aquatic Olympic Center
|High School No. 25
||Center for Internationalization
|School of Chemistry
||Department of Learning Service and Internships
|School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering
||Department of Information Technology
|School of Accounting and Business Management
||Department of Planning and Strategic Projects / Seminar Unit
|School of Law and Criminology
||Department of Student Affairs
|School of Medicine / University Hospital
||Department of Scholarships
|School of Veterinary Medicine
||Department of Student Records
Furthermore, periodic training conferences are offered at these schools and entities to teach students and professors how to properly manage and dispose of different types of waste.
In January 2019, the Vice Presidency of Sustainability and the Department of Environmental Management and Operational Safety acknowledged 21 UANL entities in recognition of the improvements in their environmental performance. Each entity was gifted sets of new bins to strengthen the recycling program. The awarded entities are listed as follows:
- School of Nursing
- School of Medicine
- School of Public Health and Nutrition
- School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering
- School of Chemistry
- School of Veterinary Medicine
- School of Agronomy
- Alvaro Obregon Industrial and Technical High School (Churubusco and Independencia)
- Center for Research and Development of Bilingual Education
- High School No. 1
- Pablo Livas Industrial and Technical High School West
- High School No. 6
- High School No. 7
- High School No. 10
- High School No. 12
- High School No. 14
- High School No. 21
- High School No. 25
- Institute of Civil Engineering
- Department of Health Services
- Capilla Alfonsina University Library
The PROSER program’s coverage increased thanks to the new bins provided. As of June 2020, the program has reached 53 percent of the UANL entities.
From February 2013 to June 2020, a total of 1,103.21 metric tons of recyclable materials were collected as shown in the following graph:
Waste Sorting from February 2013 to June 2020
Source: COPAMEX and Biopappel
With this program, UANL has accomplished important environmental benefits such as:
The success of the PROSER program lies in the joint efforts of the university community to adopt sustainable practices into their daily activities. However, due to the ongoing pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV2 virus, most activities at UANL have been suspended since March 2020, resulting in a decrease in the collection of recyclable materials. Likewise, the Recycling Culture at UANL Program by the Department of Learning Service and Internships concluded in May 2019; the programs required students to collect recyclable waste as part of their community service to help other social programs. The conclusion of this program has also affected the collection of recyclable materials.
Technical Guidelines on Waste Management
The Vice Presidency of Sustainability and the Department of Environmental Management and Operational Safety developed the following technical guidelines:
At the end of 2019, a pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus or COVID-19 broke out, forcing governments to implement different sanitation practices. In Mexico, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources issued the Guidelines on Municipal Solid Waste Management to Prevent the Proliferation of COVID-19 to provide information about the proper management of municipal solid waste during the pandemic and the situations where these protective measures should be taken.
The above mentioned document defines two types of municipal solid waste:
- Normal waste generated by households and organizations (no hospitals) without COVID-19 infection.
- COVID-19 waste generated by households and organizations (no hospitals) with COVID-19 infection, including airports and passenger terminals (land and maritime).
Current evidence suggests that the virus can survive up to 3 hours in the air, 4 hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard, and 2 to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel. The lifespan of COVID-19 on surfaces makes municipal solid waste a potential source of transmission. In Mexico, municipal solid waste management often includes ripping apart the garbage bags to remove the contents. People involved in the management of municipal solid waste are at higher risk of COVID-19 since many individuals have direct with the waste before its final disposal. Therefore, mandatory measures should be taken throughout the whole management process (Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1).
According to the Guidelines on Preventive Practices for COVID-19 Waste Generators, all the waste produced by households and organizations with people infected and in mandatory self-isolation is considered COVID-19 waste, including waste produced by airports and land or maritime passenger terminals. The document strongly advises to minimize the generation of waste such as disposable tableware or packages used by people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or might have been exposed to the virus (travelers).
Sorting and storage: the processes of sorting and storing should be temporarily suspended since recyclable municipal solid waste can potentially become COVID-19 waste and, therefore, a possible source of transmission.
Storage of municipal solid waste at households and organizations with COVID-19 infection: all waste should be carefully sprayed with an anti-COVID-19 solution to minimize the risk of transmission during its management. Recent studies show that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can last up to 3 days on plastic and metal surfaces, so it is important to prevent its proliferation in the stored waste.
The following anti-COVID-19 solutions are recommended to disinfect COVID-19 waste:
- Bleach-based solution: add 1/3 cup of household bleach to 4 liters of water or use 4 teaspoons per liter.
- Non-bleach solution: for fabrics and many other soft materials, use a 70 percent ethanol solution.
Another important recommendation is to double-bag COVID-19 using disposable gloves, without compressing the contents. Garbage bags should be tied closed and kept out of reach of pets and wild animals. The outer bag must have a “COVID-19 waste” label and be securely stored until collection.
COVID-19 Waste Collection
The collection of COVID-19 waste must be carried out by a specialized service provider, supervised by the Civil Guard and the Ministry of Health. The waste will be transported to a designated final disposal site and should not be transferred to another site once there. The vehicles used for the transportation of COVID-19 waste should be fully closed and have quick unloading systems without compaction mechanisms. All service providers must have a valid identification.
Preventive Practices for the Final Disposal of COVID-19 Waste
- All COVID-19 waste must be incinerated or confined in a designated landfill cell. Access to these cells will be restricted and the waste must be covered with soil each day.
- Waste picking must not be allowed in these cells.
- After each unloading, the vehicles must be carefully cleaned with an anti-COVID-19 solution.
- All work equipment must be disinfected with an anti-COVID-19 solution each day.
- Basic health services must be offered at the final disposal site during the pandemic. The medical staff must keep detailed records of the workers operating the designated landfill cells.
The image below describes the COVID-19 waste management process:
Source: Guidelines on Municipal Solid Waste Management to Prevent the Proliferation of COVID-19. Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources 2020.