Comparison Between Cross Cultural Differences in Waste Management

by Altangerel Bat-Erdene, Mongolia, ELP 2014

Where I come from, waste is the last thing that comes to people’s minds. Almost 70% of total waste is compostable but people don’t bother composting or using it for other purposes. Composting may probably be the last thing that comes to your mind if you are living in an extremely harsh climate. Even so, during the last 4 years, our compostable waste has tripled in the volume. Let me give you some brief information about the waste situation in Ulaanbaatar.

Waste management issues are mainly sorting and recycling in Ulaanbaatar. Apparently people don’t care about waste recycling and its volume problem in the future. Environmental concerns regarding waste issues are essential difficulties in the city council. Unfortunately, a real mechanism of waste management is still lacking behind the long-term solution. Good planning and strong enforcement is needed for both administration and social implementation to properly deal with waste management.

On the other hand, San Francisco has started its solid waste management program based on the ambitious “Goal of zero waste by 2020”. To make sure that no material goes to landfill, the city’s zero waste goal means that products are designed and used according to the principle of highest and best use. Zero Waste also means that discarded materials follow the waste reduction: reduce, reuse, and then recycle or compost.

To meet its zero waste goal, San Francisco has used a three-pronged approach that addresses the legal, administrative, and social challenges of waste management reform. The San Francisco City Administration performs strong waste reduction policies, such as the innovation of new programs and creation of a culture of recycling and composting. For example, UC Berkeley has reduced the amount of waste sent to landfills over the last two decades. The campus municipal solid waste (MSW) diversion rates have remained below 50%, even though the campus is trying to reach zero waste by 2020. The amount of solid waste sent to landfills by the campus went down by 4% last year, and has dropped by 28% since 1995. Facts show that UC Berkeley is successfully creating a culture aimed at reduction towards zero waste in the long term.

Therefore, I understand ambitious goals can be fulfilled with good management and appropriate planning for long-term success. Many factors should be taken into consideration such as waste minimization, waste removal, waste transportation, waste treatment, recycling and reuse, storage, collection, transportation, treatment, landfill disposal, financial and marketing aspects, policy and regulations, education and training.

However, some questions still remain:
How do I transfer this technology into my city?
What are the main principles of this success?
Was it just a highly educated society or was it good management?
What are the secrets of sudden success?

Maybe I need to study and learn more about the UC Berkeley behavior change.