A waste disaster avoided

Materials World magazine
10 Dec 2018

A recent study has looked into ways of planning for waste built-up as a result of emergency responses to disasters such as hurricanes and flooding. Begun as an investigation into why Flint, Michigan, USA, did not become overcome by plastic waste – 31 to 100 million plastic bottles – after its three year reliance on bottled water between 2014 and 2017, due to a lead contamination crisis, researchers at Purdue University, USA, recommended several ways for incorporating waste management into emergency response plans for the future.

In Flint, community organisations and government agencies established sites around the community that distributed water bottles and filters, and picked up or dropped off waste. These services were advertised on local TV, social media, websites, newspapers and flyers.

Researchers built on this by recommending the establishment of waste management organisations, putting in place a procedure for estimating and documenting emergency water supply materials entering and exiting a community, planning water distribution tactics, providing public notifications about waste management activities and making all of the planned responses publicly available beforehand for people to become familiar with them.

However, the current focus of USA waste management plans for disasters is on large debris, and does not take into account plastic waste and other such detritus from aid operations.

Kevin Morley, the federal relations manager for the American Water Works Association, said in a university release, ‘In order for waste management protocols – like for bottled water if that's the temporary solution – to be considered appropriately, there needs to be a clear water mission in the National Response Framework. Then information sharing and coordination associated with the need can more effectively be considered as part of the overall response effort and demands on local waste management infrastructure.’

Read the paper, Management of plastic bottle and filter waste during the large-scale Flint Michigan lead contaminated drinking water incident, published in Resources, Conservation and Recycling, at 10.1016/j.resconrec.2018.08.021