Disaster waste management and the Christchurch experience
Disasters can create the equivalent of 20 years of waste in only a few days. Disaster waste can have direct impacts on public health and safety, and on the environment. The management of such waste has a great direct cost to society in terms of labor, equipment, processing, transport and disposal. Disaster waste management also has indirect costs, in the sense that slow management can slow down a recovery, greatly affecting the ability of commerce and industry to re-start. In addition, a disaster can lead to the disruption of normal solid waste management systems, or result in inappropriate management that leads to expensive environmental remediation. Finally, there are social impacts implicit in disaster waste management decisions because of psychological impact we expect when waste is not cleared quickly or is cleared too quickly. The paper gives an overview of the challenge of disaster waste management, examining issues of waste quantity and composition; waste treatment; environmental, economic, and social impacts; health and safety matters; and planning. Christchurch, New Zealand, and the broader region of Canterbury were impacted during this research by a series of shallow earthquakes. This has led to the largest natural disaster emergency in New Zealand’s history, and the management of approximately 8 million tons of building and infrastructure debris has become a major issue. The paper provides an overview of the status of disaster waste management in Christchurch as a case study. A key conclusion is the vital role of planning in effective disaster waste management. In spite of the frequency of disasters, in most countries the ratio of time spent on planning for disaster waste management to the time spent on normal waste management is extremely low. Disaster waste management also requires improved education or training of those involved in response efforts. All solid waste professionals have a role to play to respond to the challenges of disaster waste management.