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Contemporary sustainability issues in urban areas

Contemporary sustainability issues in urban areas

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Contemporary sustainability issues in urban areas
Waste management: recycling and its alternatives.
Transport and its management: the development of integrated, efficient and sustainable systems.

What you need to know:

Waste management: The population growth within cities has resulted in increasing quantities of waste being generated. Varied lifestyles and changing consumption patterns has caused the quality and composition of waste to become more varied and changing. Industrialisation and economic growth has produced more amounts of waste, including hazardous and toxic wastes.

There is a growing realisation of the negative impacts that wastes have had on the local environment (air, water, land, human health etc.)

Complexity, costs and coordination of waste management has necessitated multi-stakeholder involvement in every stage of the waste management process. This calls for an integrated approach to waste management. Some local governments are now looking at waste as a business opportunity and are looking to either extract valuable resources contained within the waste or to process and dispose of waste with a minimum impact on the environment.

In LEDCs waste management causes huge problems e.g. The Payatas dump was Manila’s largest waste disposal site, receiving about 5000 tons of rubbish every day. Six mountains of waste up to 15 metres high were created. More than 80,000 slum dwellers live around this area, many earning their living as waste pickers. These people faced severe health problems such as typhoid, hepatitis, cholera, and other infectious diseases. In 2000 heavy rains caused one of the hills to collapse killing 205 persons. The dump site has been closed since 2004.

MEDCs are beginning to see that simply disposing of municipal waste by landfill or incineration is unsustainable. In the UK DEfRA is responsible for the coordination of waste management while Local Authorities are responsible for the day to day management of waste within their area. Details can be found at

Increasingly there has been a shift from waste disposal to recycling, processing and re-use. The next step is to minimise the amount of waste produced.

Recycling: Recycling is the breaking down of materials from waste into raw materials. These are then reprocessed either into the same material (‘closed loop’ e.g. steel) or a new product (‘open loop’ e.g. plastic bottles are used to make ‘fleece’ material). One of the benefits of recycling is the reduction of the amount of resources that need to be harvested and processed for the manufacture of new products. See

Processing: Waste processing is the range of activities characterised by the treatment and recovery of materials or energy from waste. Processes include:
• Re-use e.g. retreading tyres, recovery of demolition materials for use as hardcore, reuse of plastic bags, second hand clothing, reconditioning and repair of furniture and appliances etc. A whole industry in waste re-use has grown in the UK with the increase in charity shops. As big stores leave the high street and charity shops move in, there is a demand for used clothing, shoes, books etc.
• Thermal processes including:
• Incineration: the burning of waste in incinerators. This has the benefits of reducing landfill and producing electricity. Arguments against it are that both the ash and exhaust gases are highly toxic. See:
• Gasification; the production of gas from waste materials.
• Biological processes, such as open composting, enclosed composting, anaerobic digestion, and vermiculture (using earthworms)

Minimisation: Waste minimisation, also known as waste prevention and source reduction, is the design, purchase, manufacture or use of products and materials which reduce the amount of waste generated. Waste minimisation actually reduces the amount of raw material used and therefore the amount of wasted resources discarded. See

It is advisable to have a case study of an example of an integrated waste management that has at least two approaches to the reduction of landfill.

Transport: An integrated traffic management system is one where the planning and delivery of elements of the transport system are brought together, across modes, sectors, operators and institutions, with the aim of increasing economic and social benefits.

An example of a strong system is Amsterdam
• Integrated ticketing: Netherlands National Tariff System
• Dense and growing public transport network: bus, metro, train, tram, ferry
• Coordinated bus services
• High levels of cycling provision: 700,000 bikes in the city
• Car use discouraged within city by road limitations and high parking charges

An example of a weaker system is Greater Manchester
• Fragmented ticketing system, with minimal cross-operator acceptance
• Commuter rail network. Growing tram network, but small metro/tram system for a city of its size
• Bus use has increased marginally but service is still fragmented
• Low levels of cycling provision: 15,740 travelling to work by bicycle in 2001 in Manchester’s Primary Urban Area
• Over six in ten people commute to work by car

A very good article on transport integration can be found at

It is advisable to have a case study of an integrated transport management system that has at least two approaches to the improvement of urban transport. E.g. Information about the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) for London can be found at

Information on how Amsterdam plans to reduce its traffic problems can be found at


19. With reference to: Either waste management in urban areas Or: transport management in urban areas, discuss the extent to which sustainability can be achieved. (40 marks)

20. Describe the varying ways in which the cities manage their waste. Comment on the different methods used. (7 marks)


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