Managing solid waste caused by emergencies and disasters

Recovered metal debris from the World Trade Center at Fresh Kills Landfill

9/11 and the World Trade Center. Hurricane Katrina. The earthquake in Haiti. The tsunami in Japan.  These disasters resulted in a horrifying loss of human life and the destruction of property. They also generated an unexpected amount of solid waste that needed to be managed quickly and safely.

In response to the World Trade Center attacks, New York City’s closed landfill, the Fresh Kills Landfill, had to be reopened as a temporary sorting ground for roughly one-third of the rubble from Ground Zero.  Not only was material sorted, personal belongings found, but human remains also were identified by a team of forensic detectives. More than 15 million tons of materials were processed, recycled and landfilled at the site. A lot of the debris from the World Trade Center was also made toxic due to the sheer number of fluorescent tubes that broke when the buildings collapsed.

Following Hurricane Katrina, the U.S.’s Federal Emergency Management Agency worked with local and state departments to collect and dispose of the debris, the amount of which was estimated to be equivalent to 60 football fields stacked 100 feet high.  The Solid Waste Association of North America prepared a briefing report to highlight the “lessons learned” from the debris management resulting from the hurricane.

Even two years after the earthquake in Haiti, there is still much debris littering communities.  A recent blog post by HaltonRecycles highlighted the efforts by people and organizations to rebuild Haitian homes by reusing the rubble.

One year after the fact, debris from the tsunami in Japan is starting to wash up on the western shore of North America, including a motorcycle in British Columbia and a dock in Oregon.

So what would happen if a disaster, like a devastating tornado, happened in Halton Region?First off, Halton Region has an Emergency Management Program that explains how Halton will manage major emergency situations.   Any decisions regarding the handling of waste caused by a disaster would be made at Halton’s Emergency Operations Centre, and would involve the Commissioner of Public Works, the Director of Waste Management Services, other key staff from Halton Region and the affected municipality.

The City of Peterborough is flooded in 2004.

In 2004 the City of Peterborough experienced a record rainfall of 175 mm. In fact, during the hour between 3:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., a rainfall of 78.8 mm was measured.  The City’s Emergency Operation Centre was activated, residents in impacted areas were evacuated, people trapped in cars were rescued, and considerable effort had to be extended to clean up all the damage.  At one point, 80 garbage trucks were being used to collect garbage and other debris. Approximately 12,500 metric tonnes of waste was landfilled from July 16 to 27. The normal amount for same period is generally 3,000 metric tonnes.  Ultimately, response and recovery efforts were deemed a success, and lessons learned have been shared with other municipalities.

A lot of damaged, moldy items had to be landfilled because of the flood in the City of Peterborough.

Waste management is only one consideration during a major disaster or emergency.  The obvious focus first and foremost is to protect human lives.  You can be prepared by knowing the risks, making an emergency plan, and having a 72-hour emergency supply kit in your home.

About John Watson

I'm a communicator, educator and project manager with a focus on environmental and public works issues. Previously, I was the Onboarding Director for ReCollect Systems, where I implemented digital communication products for municipalities and non-profits. For eight years, I was the Waste Diversion Educator Coordinator for Halton Region, where I implemented award winning communications and outreach programs.
This entry was posted in Apartments, Garbage, Green Living, History, Household Hazardous Waste, Houses, Recycle, Reduce, Reuse and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Managing solid waste caused by emergencies and disasters

  1. Pingback: Managing solid waste caused by emergencies and disasters … |

  2. Pingback: Managing solid waste caused by emergencies and disasters … | Emergency Response Preparedness

  3. Real nifty website, this genuinely answered some of my questions. Thank you!.

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