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Wednesday, 08 August 2012 15:15

The Unique Waste Management Requirements of Small Island Regions

Written by  Clyde Falzon
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Editor’ Note: This paper has been targeted for a broad audience. The level of scientific detail provided is therefore not as high as would be normally be required in technical paper subject to peer review by environment industry professionals.

There exist around 310 islands in the EU which offer residence to more than 3% of the total EU population. This amounts to approximately 15 Million citizens who need to live in a healthy environment. Furthermore, islands tend to attract tourism which piles further pressure on the environment especially on the waste management infrastructure.

Proper waste management leads to enhanced environmental protection. Higher protection of the environment leads to a healthier society. A healthier society contributes to a wealthier economy. All these are part of a loop often described as sustainable development. However in order to have a healthier environment a case in point is the management of waste generated by the society itself.

In general each country has different social, economic and environmental characteristics requiring specific waste management practices. These specific requirements are more restricted for island regions were limited land area, relatively small waste quantities, and limited industry to transform waste back into a resource are the order of the day.

One of the biggest challenges for waste management on islands is the long distance between the waste generation source and the treatment facilities, where in the case of islands is further complicated due to their relative isolation from the mainland. Long-distance shipping/transportation of waste is not environmentally sustainable thus ideally the waste is to be treated close to the point of generation. In addition, long-distance waste transportation goes against the principles of proximity and self-sufficiency. These principles encourage treatment of waste close to source and within the limits of the municipality producing the waste (whenever this is possible). This obliges the waste planners to come up with holistic approaches to dispose the waste into alternative channels based on the characteristics of the region.

Islands are characterized by a relatively small amount of waste which varies seasonally, mainly due to tourism and climate. Thus waste treatment facilities of these regions shall be capable to accommodate these waste variations. Furthermore, waste management facilities require assurance of certain waste amounts that make it financially viable to operate. Sometime this is difficult to be achieved in island regions, a situation that hinders the interest of the investor.

In order to construct and operate such a facility one would require a number of resources; a significant one is the land area. Limited availability of land space on islands makes siting of waste treatment facilities challenging. A hurdle that in certain cases is difficult to overcome.

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