Natural Disaster Waste Disposal

by Shred-Tech on Apr 29th 2022

Natural Disaster Waste Disposal

When natural disasters hit, oftentimes high volumes of solid and liquid waste are generated and littered across entire communities, making recovery efforts difficult and creating a hazardous environment for both the public and the ecosystem. Everything from hazardous waste and harmful chemicals to structural instabilities and possible collapses bring a great level of risk to public health, while large and bulky solid wastes can block roads and passageways necessary for fast disaster relief.

However, the positive news is that many reusable types of waste and materials can be found within the wreckage, which can vastly speed up relief efforts and quickly create habitable communities once again. Concrete, steel, wood, clay, tar, and other metals, building materials, electrical equipment, and valuable resources can be recovered from disaster sites and processed. Safe, efficient, and effective materials handling and processing is required to properly recycle and reuse disaster waste like these materials, and so powerful and reliable disaster waste disposal and recycling solutions are needed.

Further problems arise, however, when much of the waste from natural disasters either is left as is, or when it is improperly disposed of. When disaster waste remains, it can decompose and/or remain a harmful hazard to the population and environment, while disaster waste that is improperly disposed of often ends up dumped in areas that cause harm to the environment or even the community. Sometimes, waste is even dumped on valuable land that then requires additional costs for removal.

Natural disaster waste that remains not disposed or unprocessed can have serious negative consequences for public health and the environment. The following is a chart from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "Planning for Natural Disaster Debris” document and details the various impacts different types of disaster waste can have on communities and the environment:

Type of Disaster Waste Impact
Uncollected building rubble from damaged buildings can Impeded access and constrained rehabilitation & reconstruction activities. Waste tends to attract more waste since the site is already considered a dumping site.
Dumping in inappropriate areas and/or proliferation of scattered dump sites Potential human health and injury risks from dump sites too close to settlements, especially from hazardous materials. Destruction of valuable land. Impacts on drinking water supplies and damage to valuable fisheries. Additional costs if waste must be moved later. Increase in disease vectors (flies, mosquitoes, rats, etc.). Risk of waste piles collapsing. Risk of fires. Risk of cuts from sharp materials, including used syringes.
Collapse of municipal solid waste services, including possible loss of experienced waste managers Lack of collection service and uncontrolled dumping of waste.
Uncontrolled dumping of healthcare waste from hospitals and clinics Serious health risks to local populations including the spread of disease and infection, for example from used syringes; odour problems.
Asbestos sheet exposure in collapsed structures or in re-use of asbestos for reconstruction Health risks associated with inhalation.

Further information on the types of waste created by various types of natural disasters is necessary to ensure avid preparedness in the event of a disaster. With so many different kinds of disaster waste, cleanup and recovery efforts become more difficult, costly, and time-consuming.

The following is another chart taken from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "Planning for Natural Disaster Debris” document and details the different types of disaster waste that can accumulate as a result of each disaster type:

Earthquakes Structures collapse ‘in-situ’, i.e. floor slabs collapse on top of each other, trapping waste within damaged buildings and structures. This can lead to challenges in sorting out hazardous waste (e.g. asbestos) from non-hazardous (e.g. general building rubble). Handling waste often requires heavy machinery, which communities may not be able to afford or have difficulty to access. Collapsed buildings may overlap across streets, making access difficult for the search and rescue and relief operations. Quantities of waste are high compared to other disaster types since all building contents normally become waste.
Flooding Floods often lead to mass displacement, which in turn requires shelters and camps and leads to large volumes of household wastes. Initial damage depends on the structural integrity of infrastructure, while building contents are normally damaged extensively. Mould may be present and timber may have begun to rot. Buildings are typically stripped by owners and waste placed on roads for collection. Waste is often mixed with hazardous materials such as household cleaning products and electronic goods. Flooding may bring mud, clay and gravel into affected areas, making access difficult once the floodwater recedes. Removal may be required for relief and recovery operations. The mud, clay and gravel may be mixed with hazardous materials, requiring further assessment before dumping.
Tsunami Strong tsunamis can cause widespread damage to infrastructure, spreading debris over large areas. Debris is often be mixed with soils, trees, bushes and other loose objects such as vehicles. This makes waste difficult to handle and segregate.
Hurricanes Typhoons Cyclones Strong winds can tear the roof off buildings, after which walls may collapse. Poorly constructed houses and huts can ‘fold’ under roof tops. Even brick and concrete walls may collapse. Waste is spread over open land, streets, and marketplaces. This would include roofing materials, small items and dust carried by the wind. This may cause serious problems where asbestos is present Ships and boats are often thrown ashore and destroyed, requiring specialized waste management. Vessels that sink in harbours need to be removed. Electrical and telephone grids as well as transformers containing oil and PCBs may be destroyed.

One of the most prominent goals of natural disaster relief efforts regarding debris management is to preserve limited landfill space. This can be achieved with the help of powerful equipment that can dispose of waste while recovering, reusing, and recycling as much usable materials as possible. The amount of recoverable material from disaster waste varies depending on the location of the disaster, the type of disaster, the type of waste generated, contamination levels, and recycling capacities in the area, so a survey of the damage and available recycling capabilities is necessary. However, many materials in disaster waste can be reused effectively to improve relief efforts. Thus, it is most important to come up with a disaster relief plan and strategy before a disaster occurs to optimize recycling efforts. Having a plan in place can not only speed up recovery efforts, but potentially save lives!In order to properly dispose of waste generated from natural disasters, the waste first needs to be identified. Once the type of disaster waste has been identified, options can then be reviewed for the handling, treatment, and disposal of the waste.

According to the “Disaster Waste Management Guidelines” from the United Nations Office For the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: Environmental Emergencies Section, officials can be prepared to manage debris in a responsible and effective manner by ensuring that “1) debris segregation is optimized; 2) storage or staging sites are located in acceptable areas; 3) reuse and recycling opportunities are utilized to the fullest extent possible; 4) hazardous wastes and other problematic waste streams (e.g., ACM, PCB-containing wastes) are properly managed; 5) available landfill capacity is used appropriately; and 6) new debris management units or closed units that are reopened have appropriate siting restrictions and controls in place.”

Once as much disaster waste as possible has been reused or recycled, it’s necessary to dispose of any remaining waste in a manner that protects both the community and the environment. Most debris and disaster waste remaining can be disposed of properly in a landfill as long as it meets proper regulations, while hazardous waste must be thoroughly treated and disposed of with equipment built for the task.

Shred-Tech's Solution to Natural Disaster Waste

Shred-Tech® takes the threat of natural disasters seriously and has sought a way to help. Our dealer partnership with Pronar has allowed us to move into the disaster relief space with the addition of heavy-duty slow-speed shredders that are ideal for large volume, landfill, and municipal waste applications, while their mobility makes them perfect for conveniently moving about disaster sites.

Slow-speed shredders are an excellent choice for the repurposing process of natural disaster waste. They can also be used to reduce bulky disaster waste to smaller scraps allowing for more air space when disposed of in a landfill site. Waste volume can be reduced up to 75% when using our Pronar slow-speed shredders, making bulky debris and various disaster waste far easier to transport and dispose of, while valuable materials are more easily processed and reused thanks to their smaller size. With a user-friendly and powerful control panel, relief efforts can be performed easily and efficiently to help communities get back on their feet fast.

Visit Our Booth!

Come stop by booth 3138 at Waste Expo to learn more about how our slow-speed shredders can aid in disaster relief. We’d love to hear about your business and how we can help!