Disaster waste 'bottlenecks' a problem
Last updated 05:00 07/05/2011
Recycling all debris after a disaster can be costly and disruptive, a University of Canterbury researcher says.
A team of researchers, led by PhD student Charlotte Brown, reviewed waste-management responses from nine past disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 and last year's Haiti earthquake.
Their results appeared in the international journal Waste Management on February 21 – a day before Christchurch's devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake, which she estimated produced about 20 years' worth of solid waste, or about four million tonnes.
Brown said the most important lesson from other disasters was about "bottlenecks" in dealing with waste.
Because of strict environmental legislation in Italy, 15 months after the April 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila less than 100,000 tonnes of an estimated 3 million to 4 million tonnes of debris had been cleared, sparking public protests.
"It is a real balancing act," Brown said. "You want to minimise environmental impacts, minimise cost ... and minimise social disruption – goals which are not always complementary."
Choosing 100 per cent recycling would be great for the environment, but cost more and take a lot longer, she said.
"If an expedient recovery is desired then some compromises to `peacetime' processes may be necessary. The desirable balance will be different for different communities responding to different disasters."
Another research team member, civil engineering and natural processes associate professor Mark Milke, said that poor public communication was an "unfortunately common" feature of disaster waste-management responses. Neither Brown nor Milke felt able to comment on waste-management in Christchurch after the quakes.
Brown said the aim of her research was to develop international guidelines on disaster waste management.