Sustainable Solid Waste Management: A Critical Review

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literature review on poor solid waste management

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The chapter provides an overview of sustainable solid waste management (SSWM). In order to understand SSWM, the definitions of solid wastes (SWs) are reviewed and gaps are identified. From the identified gaps, a new definition of plastic solid wastes (PSWs) is developed.

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Mwanza, B.G., Mbohwa, C. (2022). Sustainable Solid Waste Management: A Critical Review. In: Sustainable Technologies and Drivers for Managing Plastic Solid Waste in Developing Economies. SpringerBriefs in Applied Sciences and Technology. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-88644-8_1

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Home > Books > Solid Waste Management - Recent Advances, New Trends and Applications

Health Impacts of Poor Solid Waste Management in the 21st Century

Submitted: 28 June 2023 Reviewed: 18 August 2023 Published: 29 September 2023

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.1002812

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Industries and households globally accumulate solid waste at a heightened rate, due to increased global population, food and essentials to survive. Although steps have been taken in recent years to manage waste efficiently, through utilizing municipal waste collection centres and taken to landfills and dumps; solid waste is presenting impacts on human health. This is particularly prevalent within developing countries. This study aims to understand the health impacts of poor waste management in the 21st century. A systematic review of white and gray literature sources is carried out. Results have revealed that poor solid waste management comprising of waste generated by human beings and animal activity, result in the following: a spread of infections and diseases through attracting rodents and other creatures, pollution from chemicals released through landfills and greenhouse gasses, plastic waste and respiratory diseases. Global societies should be educated on implementing appropriate strategies towards good solid waste management.

  • solid waste

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Parin somani *.

  • London Organisation of Skills Development, UK

*Address all correspondence to: [email protected]

1. Introduction

Industries and households globally accumulate solid waste at a heightened rate, due to increased global population, food and essentials to survive. Attempts have been made within governmental policies to attain sustainable societal development. It has been identified that through ensuring the implementation of sustainable solid waste management strategies, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) can be achieved. This includes SDG6 which is “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all” SDG 11 ensuring “Sustainable cities and communities” [ 1 ], SDG 13 “Take urgent action to combat climate change” [ 2 ], SDG 15 “Life on land protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss” [ 3 ] and SDG 12 “Ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, which is key to sustain the livelihoods of current and future generations” [ 4 ]. Solid waste management facilitates a decrease in the number of finite resources that are used, the number or reusable materials in addition to reduced recycling to irradicate waste, decrease the amount of pollution, helping to save costs and improve the green economy. When this occurs, not only will there be a growth in economy, but individuals will also enjoy a better and healthier lifestyle.

It is predicted that by 2025 the global population will increase to eight billion and by 2050 there will be a further increase to 9.3 billion out of which approximately seventy percent of the population will reside in urban locations [ 5 ]. In addition, it is predicted that each individual will increase the amount of municipal solid waste they produce, due to urbanization and increased industrialization [ 6 ]. Numerous developing countries have remained underdeveloped pertaining to their solid waste management systems. Approximately ninety percent of residual waste within urban areas is dumped opposed to it being landfilled in the appropriate manner. Within India in the millennium, the MoEF declared solid waste management and handling guidelines through which waste management could be completed appropriately [ 7 ]. The rules created a pathway through which governmental authorities were able to devise and implement a feasible infrastructure through which solid waste could be collected, stored, segregated, transported, processed, and disposed [ 8 ]. Research has identified that after spending between twenty to fifty percent of their budget, only fifty to eighty percent of general waste is collected using eighty to ninety five percent on transportation and waste collection within developing countries [ 9 ]. Figure 1 illustrates the most and least preferred steps of solid waste management.

literature review on poor solid waste management

Most and least preferred steps of solid waste management [ 10 ].

The most preferred step in the solid waste management hierarchy is prevention. This is because the least number of materials and resources are utilized to manufacture and design, ensuring minimal generation of waste towards a clean and friendly environment. The next step is reduction and refers to the refurbishment, cleaning, checking and repairing spare or whole items that are found. This step does not allow inappropriate waste products to enter the disposal system without being checked. Waste is collected during the interim process production, then returned to the source to facilitate the complete production processes, resulting in a reduction in waste generation. Recycling is the next step, during which materials can be extracted and reused into a new product or substance. Alternatively, organic waste can be composited, and soil fertility can be improved. The recovery process is not as desired, because it results in the anaerobic digestion and incineration with recovering energy. It also includes other useful materials like gasification and pyrolysis used to produce energy like power, heat and fuel. Thus, although it is not the most preferred step it ensures waste is converted into very useful sources of energy. The final step is disposal, and it is placed within the solid waste management hierarchy as the least preferred step. This is because it involves incineration without recovering any energy and also includes landfilling.

Although steps have been taken in recent years to manage waste efficiently, through utilizing municipal waste collection centers and taken to landfills and dumps; solid waste is presenting impacts on human health. This is particularly prevalent within developing countries. This study aims to understand the health impacts of poor waste management in the 21st century.

1.1 Objectives

This study aims to understand the health impacts of poor waste management in the 21st century.

2. Methodology

A systematic review through a well-planned literature search is implemented using manual and electronic databases. Literature sources are extracted from, analyzed, evaluated, and interpreted.

3. Results and discussion

Results have revealed that poor solid waste management comprising of waste generated by human beings and animal activity, result in the following: a spread of infections and diseases through attracting rodents and other creatures, pollution from chemicals released through landfills and greenhouse gasses, plastic waste and respiratory diseases.

3.1 A spread of infections and diseases

With more than two billion tons of municipal solid waste generated per year, it is vital to ensure that it is disposed of properly, minimizing harmful outcomes on public health. This is due to high contamination levels within the air, water and soil consequently affecting the lives of both adults and children. Waste deemed as hazardous, or the implementation of waste treatment that is unsafe like open burning, can create a harmful impact of employees and other individuals involved within the burning processes. In addition, local communities are subject to increased health risks with children and vulnerable adults are more at risk. When inadequate collection of waste is carried out, impacts upon the environment and marine pollution including blockage of water drains have been highlighted. Subsequently, floods and can occur and initiate vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue and promote cholera [ 11 ]. According to the World Health Organization in a survey carried out in 2019, approximately fifty-four million tons of e-waste was produced per annum. They included televisions, phones, and computers. There is an expectation that by 2030 this will rise to seventy-five million tons.

A process of fermentation can occur due to improper disposal of organic waste, which promotes the ideal environment for microbial pathogens to “survive and thrive” [ 12 ]. This led to serious human health hazards because, when humans have direct contact with such solid waste, they can contract chronic ailments and infections. When solid waste is left unattended on roadsides and waste accumulates, the effects can be most harmful as they gradually become a breeding ground for the infestation of rats, mosquitoes and cockroaches. It is well known that rodents can contribute to food poisoning, Dengue and Malaria. Hence it is vital that solid waste is properly disposed of, to limit the number of pests carrying diseases and a reduction of the impact on the health of the larger public population.

When solid waste is not properly disposed of using scientific methods, the individuals most at risk are municipal workers and rag pickers. This includes when individuals have been exposed to pollutants and toxic substances, as this can result in potential blood infections and skin irritation. Figure 2 provides a strategy to facilitate sustainable management of organic waste. It includes the generation of waste, which should then be handled, sorted, stored, and processed appropriately. The waste should then be collected, processed, and recovered or transferred and transported, after which it should be correctly disposed of.

literature review on poor solid waste management

Sustainable strategy of organic waste management facilitation [ 13 ].

3.2 Pollution from chemicals

The local area economy has an impact upon the amount of waste composition, according to research. The use of packaged goods are likely to be utilized by high earners, for example plastic, glass, metals and paper. Hence, waste management practices are impacted and reflected through waste composition discrepancies [ 14 ]. Some waste is deemed as hazardous including medicines, pesticides and batteries which are mixed in with the municipal waste. In addition, fruit and vegetables are organic waste, while biomedical waste should not be mixed with municipal solid waste like blood-stained clothes, sanitary products, and disposable syringes, due to the risk of contamination and increased infection rates [ 15 ]. However, the most amount of organic waste is accumulated through domestic use, in contrast demolition produce and road sweeping constitutes to inert waste. Nevertheless, the composition of municipal solid waste can differ between cities [ 16 ].

Junkyards have vastly contributed to detrimental impacts on public health and the environment [ 17 ]. Anaerobic conditions are generated within open dumps leading to the production of methane which is a decomposition of biodegradable waste. However, the methane gas is a major contributing element in global warming and facilitating explosions and fires [ 18 ]. Other challenges contributing to poor health implications is the production of bad odor and generation of leaches that accumulate within the water reservoirs [ 19 ]. This is most notable within developing countries like India, when encountering hot weather conditions reaching 45°C [ 20 ]. In addition, respiratory diseases have been heightened due to waste being burnt uncontrollably, without the implementation of adequate controls. This has resulted in fine particles forming, consequently leading to smog and respiratory diseases [ 17 ]. Poor waste management has resulted in tremendous effects on public health including an increase in infections. This can involve bacterial infections, throat and nose inflammation, asthma, allergies, difficulties in breathing, and a reduced immunity [ 21 ].

Even within developed counties like the United Kingdom, research has revealed that large amounts of waste are being dumped illegally. This posses as a threat to human health and impacts environmental factors. This is because when chemicals that are hazardous, they can contaminate the air, soil and water, affecting human health, and endangering marine life and wildlife. Within a study carried out by The British Medical Bulletin, including individuals residing near a dumpsite, results revealed that the improper management of waste affected residents that lived close and far from the dumpsite. They reported symptoms like cholera, chest pains and diarrhea [ 22 ]. Although attempts are being made to achieve countries that are cleaner and greener, there is a need to ensure better solid waste management processes are in place. There are still individuals and companies that utilize unorthodox waste disposal companies and fly-tipping which is deemed to have numerous environmental and public consequences [ 23 ]. It has been revealed through a local government association analysis in the United Kingdom, that there has been a thirteen percent increase in cost in comparison to the previous year. This has affected the tax payer and land owner in order for fly-tipping to take place. In addition, due to a lack of awareness of the detrimental effects of waste materials, individuals continue to dispose of hazardous waste in fly-tipping. It was revealed that approximately more that forty tons of electric waste was produced every year and dumped illegally. Due to the mixture of chemicals, exposure to these resulted in harmful impacts to both humans and wildlife.

3.3 Plastic waste and respiratory diseases

It has been revealed that only approximately ten percent of waste generated is collected and disposed of adequately within suburban areas. Thereby contributing to environmental and public health risks. This has been linked to acute respiratory infections, more prevalent in children who reside near garbage dumps. Other symptoms reported included increased diarrhea within individuals [ 24 ].

Solid waste management requires a well-organized method of resource abstraction so that valuable resources can be found from the waste through a systematic process. In addition, low-income individuals can benefit from the position. Through this method, new material, energy, and nutrients can be found and recycled [ 25 ]. To achieve this, investment in solid waste management is required, which will facilitate novel research and development initiatives that can be devised and implemented, in addition to aid finding materials that can be recycled [ 14 ]. Within many developing countries like India there is a lack of organization and methodological process that can be followed to segregate waste in a community or within domestic use. It is left to the producers of the waste, or unorganized sectors to dispose of and manage the solid waste. Their lack of processes results in inefficient segregation and sorting, leading to insecurity and low-quality resource abstraction processes. This is because only valuable waste products are extracted due to higher financial gain [ 26 ].

4. Conclusion

Global societies should be educated on implementing appropriate strategies towards good solid waste management. The least preferred method for solid waste management in accordance with the 2016 MoUHA is landfills, due to the production of excess air pollution. Residents within communities living near to landfills may inhale toxic pollutants like methane and hydrogen sulphide that can result in major health challenges. In addition, the use of incinerators within solid waste management, have revealed “high toxic emission levels that can put human health at risk” [ 12 ]. In contrast the best method to ensure solid waste management is completed effectively is composting which individuals, and industries can practice in their own vicinities. This is deemed to reduce the burden of governing bodies, their communities, and local governments. Individuals should adhere to guidelines of segregating waste in the proper manner. This will allow composting to occur with the organic waste that is separated, treated then utilized as a fertilizer. This can be created from food that has been left over, waste accumulated from fruit, vegetables, and paper, all of which are used for domestic purposes. A variety of treatment options can be used to decompose organic waste. One of which can be found in a spray form that enables bacteria to decompose waste at a rapid rate resulting in a compost that is rich. It is up to everyone in society to protect each other and the planet from the harmful negative impacts of solid waste management.

It is important to remember that solid waste that is not disposed of in the correct manner can heighten mortality rates, cancer and can exacerbate reproductive health challenges. Thus, the management of solid waste is vital within both rural and urban areas. There is a need for policymakers, head of organizations and the public to devise innovative and environmentally friendly methods through which solid waste can be managed appropriately and efficiently. Depending on where the waste is generated, it can be segregated into categories like municipal solid waste, e-waste, or health waste. In effect any discarded materials, or rubbish can be referred to as solid waste. Approximately seventeen percent of e-waste was properly documented in 2019. This vast rise in e-waste and improper disposal of e-waste can result in several negative health implications relating to development and health particularly in young children. Hence, the importance of disposing all solid waste in an appropriate and safe manner and segregating them into different categories for easier management has become imperative.

It is essential to create awareness within global societies on challenges pertaining to solid waste management and the consequential detrimental health implications. Through this, individuals will have a better understanding of lasting damaging effects of solid waste management and solutions towards creating a sustainable progressive and safer future in the twenty first century and beyond.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Critical review on the Solid-wastes issue: Generation, Composition, Disposal and their recycling potential for various applications

Shubham Sharma 1,2 , Sudhakara 1 , SK Misra 1 and J Singh 3

Published under licence by IOP Publishing Ltd Journal of Physics: Conference Series , Volume 1804 , International Conference of Modern Applications on Information and Communication Technology (ICMAICT) 22-23 October 2020, University of Babylon, Babylon-Hilla City, Iraq Citation Shubham Sharma et al 2021 J. Phys.: Conf. Ser. 1804 012147 DOI 10.1088/1742-6596/1804/1/012147

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3 Department of Mechanical Engg., IKG Punjab Technical University, Jalandhar-Kapurthala Road, Kapurthala, 144603, Punjab, India

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In sixty-five years, merely nine percent of plastic waste was recycled and reused, twelve percent was incinerated, and the remaining seventy-nine percent has built up in landfills or ended up elsewhere in the environment. Statistically, the remaining seventy-nine percent of plastic wastes can be recycled in more than five-hundred years. Building and construction material is expensive due to the demand of the growing population with a low supply of the materials. To address this, the usage of solid-wastes for the manufacture of bricks and other building materials is an ideal-optimal approach towards tackling the challenges of handling waste-products as well as optimizing the production-cost of construction materials. Subsequently, plastic bottles, plastic containers, and plastic bags are flexible and possesses several characteristics includes good versatility, hardness, lightness, and resistance to chemicals and water and impact which can be heated and reshape to form a building material. Thus, this review briefly focusses on the possibility of utilizing non-hazardous wastes such as plastic wastes, glass bottles, and other solid-industrial wastes in making effective and quality and sand brick as substitute for expensive building material. This study is also aimed at educating the engineering public and professionals on the importance and necessity of waste management, reuse and recycling and also awareness on the benefits of conserving our environment through the reuse and utilization of waste within it. The review helps to identify the different types of wastes with potential of utilization towards construction and several key research factors and criteria which can provide focus and direction towards the choice of wastes-type to be used and ensuring that they have utilization potentials in the various value-addition applications. The piling of such wastes poses an environmental problem often on account of chemicals which the ecosystem has never been used to. These affect its proper functioning and in turn at the global level, are likely to affect even the stability of biosphere. The pool of information on Solid Wastes generation, disposal and management is increasing each year. A comprehensive review of available literature regarding Solid Wastes generation, disposal and management has been presented in this article.

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Assessment methods for solid waste management: A literature review

Affiliations.

  • 1 Vienna University of Technology, Institute for Water Quality, Resource and Waste Management, Vienna, Austria [email protected].
  • 2 Vienna University of Technology, Institute for Water Quality, Resource and Waste Management, Vienna, Austria.
  • PMID: 24895080
  • DOI: 10.1177/0734242X14535653

Assessment methods are common tools to support decisions regarding waste management. The objective of this review article is to provide guidance for the selection of appropriate evaluation methods. For this purpose, frequently used assessment methods are reviewed, categorised, and summarised. In total, 151 studies have been considered in view of their goals, methodologies, systems investigated, and results regarding economic, environmental, and social issues. A goal shared by all studies is the support of stakeholders. Most studies are based on life cycle assessments, multi-criteria-decision-making, cost-benefit analysis, risk assessments, and benchmarking. Approximately 40% of the reviewed articles are life cycle assessment-based; and more than 50% apply scenario analysis to identify the best waste management options. Most studies focus on municipal solid waste and consider specific environmental loadings. Economic aspects are considered by approximately 50% of the studies, and only a small number evaluate social aspects. The choice of system elements and boundaries varies significantly among the studies; thus, assessment results are sometimes contradictory. Based on the results of this review, we recommend the following considerations when assessing waste management systems: (i) a mass balance approach based on a rigid input-output analysis of the entire system, (ii) a goal-oriented evaluation of the results of the mass balance, which takes into account the intended waste management objectives; and (iii) a transparent and reproducible presentation of the methodology, data, and results.

Keywords: Assessment methods; benchmarking; cost benefit analysis; life cycle assessment; mass balance; material flow analysis; multi criteria decision making; risk assessment; waste management.

© The Author(s) 2014.

Publication types

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Making
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Refuse Disposal / economics
  • Refuse Disposal / methods*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Social Change
  • Research article
  • Open access
  • Published: 05 January 2022

Household solid waste management practices and perceptions among residents in the East Coast of Malaysia

  • Widad Fadhullah   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4652-0661 1 , 2 ,
  • Nor Iffah Najwa Imran 1 ,
  • Sharifah Norkhadijah Syed Ismail 3 ,
  • Mohd Hafiidz Jaafar 2 &
  • Hasmah Abdullah 1 , 4  

BMC Public Health volume  22 , Article number:  1 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

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Poor waste disposal practices hamper the progress towards an integrated solid waste management in households. Knowledge of current practices and perception of household solid waste management is necessary for accurate decision making in the move towards a more sustainable approach. This study investigates the household waste practices and perceptions about waste management in Panji, one of the sub-districts in Kota Bharu, Kelantan, Malaysia.

A stratified random sampling technique using a cross-sectional survey questionnaire was used to collect data. A total of 338 households were interviewed in the survey and data were analyzed using SPSS. Chi-square goodness of fit test was used to determine the relationships between categorical variables, whereas Chi-square bivariate correlation test was performed to observe the correlation between the perceptions of waste segregation with socio-demographic background of the respondents. The correlation between perception of respondents with the locality, house type and waste type were also conducted. Principal component analysis was used to identify grouping of variables and to establish which factors were interrelated in any given construct.

The results of the study revealed that 74.3 % of households disposed of food debris as waste and 18.3% disposed of plastic materials as waste. The study also showed that 50.3% of the households segregate their waste while 49.7% did not. About 95.9% of the respondents were aware that improper waste management leads to disease; such as diarrhea and malaria. There were associations between locality, age and house type with waste segregation practices among respondents (Chi-square test, p<0.05). Associations were also found between locality with the perception of improper waste management which lead to disease (Chi-square test, p<0.05). Principal Component Analysis showed that 17.94% of the variance has high positive loading (positive relationship) with age, marital status and, type of house.

This study highlights the importance to design waste separation programs that suit the needs of targeted population as a boost towards sustainable solid waste management practices.

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Solid waste management (SWM) in the majority of developing countries including Malaysia is dominated by open dumping due to lower capital, operational and maintenance cost in comparison with another disposal method [ 47 ]. This non-sanitary and non-engineered approach are without appropriate liners, gas collection and leachate collection and treatment, thereby exposing the surrounding environment with multiple air, water and soil pollution issues [ 15 , 23 ]. The effects of the ineffective management of household solid waste on public health (Fig. 1 ) can be separated into physical, biological, non-communicable diseases, psychosocial and ergonomics health risks [ 6 , 51 , 77 ]. Contaminated soil, air and water provide breeding ground to biological vectors such as flies, rodents and insects pests. Many diseases are sequentially caused by these biological vectors, such as diarrhoea, dysentery, gastrointestinal problems, worm infection, food poisoning, dengue fever, cholera, leptospirosis and bacterial infection; irritation of the skin, nose and eyes; as well as respiratory symptoms [ 25 , 41 , 42 , 52 ]. Exposure to gases generated by landfill waste such as methane, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide can produce inflammation and bronchoconstriction and can affect the immune cell. Hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride released from the waste if deposited in the respiratory system, may cause cough, chest tightness and breathlessness [ 21 ].

figure 1

Effect of ineffective household solid waste management on public health

Another category of health effects that can be closely related to household solid waste management is non-communicable diseases. Some studies estimated that the pollutions from the dumpsite might cause cancers (e.g. liver, pancreas, kidney, larynx) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma [ 8 , 31 , 51 ]. Other health effects under this category worth mentioning are birth defects, preterm babies, congenital disorders and Down’s syndrome [ 51 , 52 ]. Apart from physical and biological effects, inefficient household waste management can lead to psychosocial effects such as disturbing odour, unsightly waste, and thinking, cognitive and stress-related problems [ 6 , 51 , 52 , 74 , 77 ]. Ergonomics is the final category of related health effects that is worth mentioning specifically for the working community of household waste management (Fig. 1 ). The risk of ergonomic issues is related to body posture, repetitive movement and excessive force movement [ 6 ].

Majority of the solid waste generated in Malaysia composed of organic waste with high moisture content [ 43 ], hence, the handling and waste separation at source is the most critical step in waste management [ 62 ]. The increasing amount of waste generated annually is also intensified by lack of land for disposing waste, questioning the sustainability of the current municipal solid waste (MSW) practices of using landfills [ 46 ]. Nevertheless, the lack of success in public participation to manage the solid waste is primarily rooted by the NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitude and the public perception that solid waste is a local municipal problem is highly prevalent among Malaysians [ 3 ]. Thus, most of the existing waste segregation practices by waste-pickers are mostly done in the informal sector as means of livelihood for the poor and additional source of income. On the other hand, this practice causes serious health problems, aggravating the socio-economic situation [ 10 ].

In Kelantan, the common practice of waste disposal in rural and remote areas is by burying and burning of waste (Kamaruddin et al. 2016) while in urban or semi-urban areas, stationary waste storage containers are provided mainly at the sides of the main road. Kota Bharu Municipal Council (KBMC) is the local authority responsible in providing stationary waste storage container at collection site of waste within Kota Bharu district, collecting the solid waste approximately 3 times a week by compactor vehicles and transporting waste to the dumpsite located in Beris Lalang, Bachok [ 27 ]. However, the flaws of SWM in Kelantan lies primarily in inadequate bin and waste collection provided by local authorities, KBMC mainly constrained by financial issues (Rahim et al 2012). House to house waste collection is also hard to be implemented owing to narrow lanes and alleys which are mostly inaccessible [ 61 ] due to the development practice and geographical area in the state. Therefore, the locals’ resort to burying and burning their wastes within their house compound which has always been the practice since decades ago.

Household waste is one of the primary sources of MSW comprising of food wastes, paper, plastic, rags, metal and glasses from residential areas. Household waste is among the solid wastes managed by KBMC in Kota Bharu covering 15 sub-districts including Panji. Panji has the highest population compared to the other sub-district; therefore, assessment of household SWM among the residents is important to address their awareness and practices for planning an effective form of SWM. Some of the key factors influencing the effectiveness of SWM is by considering the size of the family, their income [ 67 ], level of education [ 19 ] and the location of household [ 1 ]. This factor is also supported by Shigeru [ 66 ] that the characteristics of households determine their recycling behavior and that sociodemographic conditions vary across municipalities. Socio-economic status and housing characteristics also affect the amount of municipal waste and how they manage it [ 20 ]. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the characteristics and needs of various households in designing a suitable waste management program.

Efficient SWM system is now a global concern which requires a sustainable SWM primarily in the developing countries. This study is another effort in gearing towards sustainable waste management practices in Malaysia which is also in line with the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals encompassing SDG3 Good Health and Wellbeing and SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production. So far, limited studies were reported in the East Coast of Malaysia, particularly in Kelantan on waste management practices at the household level [ 61 ] which is highly required to improve the current practices including finding the prospect of whether proper at source-sorting in households is feasible to be implemented. This study provides a case study in Panji, Kota Bharu concerning the current household characteristics and awareness of managing household solid waste in Kelantan. The findings are crucial for the waste authorities in the process of designing and providing an effective and specific action plan in the area.

Figure 2 shows the percentage of households by garbage collection facilities and median monthly household income (MYR) for the districts in Kelantan. Kota Bharu is the district with the highest median monthly household gross income and percentage of garbage collection facilities. Apart from Lojing, which is located in the highlands, Bachok, Tumpat and Pasir Puteh are the districts with the lowest percentage of garbage collection facilities within 100m of the households. Meanwhile, Bachok (34.9%), Pasir Mas (36.6%), and Pasir Puteh (38%) households are without garbage collection facilities. The figure described the problem with household solid waste management in Kelantan. The major issues contributing to the problem are due to insufficient financial resources, lack of human labor, and transportation [ 61 ]. In one of the rural area in Kelantan, it was found that the solid waste management is considered inefficient due to a lack of knowledge in proper waste handling and the importance of segregating waste properly as proper waste handling start at home (Abas et al. 2020).

figure 2

Percentage of households by garbage collection facilities and median monthly household income (MYR) for the districts in Kelantan

Household SWM is not a new issue, thus, published studies were found using survey and questionnaires and fieldwork studies. Waste characterization process was carried out by Kamaruddin et al. (2016) in 4 landfills in Kelantan. Nevertheless, they did not cover household waste knowledge, attitude and practices. Abdullah et al. [ 1 ] surveyed the household’s awareness on privatization of solid waste management and their satisfaction of the services offered but did not cover the health implications. Saat et al. [ 61 ] surveyed the practices and attitude on household waste management with a small sample size of less than 30 which limits its applicability to other region. Our study aimed to improve these previous studies by covering a wider sample size from the largest sub-district in Kelantan, Malaysia. The objective of this study is to assess the household SWM practices and perceptions among the residents of Panji vicinity in Kota Bharu district, Kelantan. Specifically, the objectives are to assess household SWM practices and perceptions in the Panji sub-district, to determine the association between socio-demographic characteristics or other factors and practices in SWM at the household level and to determine the association between socio-demographic characteristics or other factors and perceptions in SWM at household level.

This study was conducted in Panji, Kota Bharu district, Kelantan, Malaysia (Fig. 3 ), located at the east cost of Peninsular Malaysia and has the highest population among the 15 sub-districts of Kota Bharu, the capital state of Kelantan. A total of 338 respondents were recruited in this study. The population of interest in this study involved residents in Kota Bharu district and considered only residents who have attained 18 years old and above. Sample unit is residents living in Kota Bharu district of more than a year and aged more than 18 years. The target population comprised all the households in Kota Bharu District (491,237); however, it is impossible to conduct a study with such a large number within a limited time period and inadequate financial budget. Therefore, a multi- stage random sampling technique was used in selecting the appropriate sample in order to evaluate the objectives of this study and to ensure that households in the districts had the same possibility of being included in the study (Dlamini et al., 2017). Initially, one district of Kelantan state (Kota Bharu) was selected out of 10 total districts. In the second stage, one sub-district of Kota Bharu District (Panji) was selected out of 15 total sub-districts. Eventually, 338 households were randomly selected as sample size. Convenient sampling was also used to select respondents due to time constraint and response obtained from target population. The localities involved were Kampung Tapang, Kampung Chempaka, Kampung Belukar, Kampung Panji, Taman Sri Iman, Taman Desa Kujid and Taman Bendahara.

figure 3

Location of the study area in Panji, Kota Bharu district, Kelantan, Malaysia (Source:ArcGis Software version 10.2; source of shape file: Department of Drainage and Irrigation, obtained with consent)

Data collection

A survey was conducted from January to May 2018. The questionnaire was translated from English to Malay language and the translation was done back to back and validated by experts in environmental science and public health field. A pilot test was conducted with a small sample size of ~30 to determine the suitability of the items in the questionnaire and the time taken by respondents to complete the questionnaires (Dlamini et al. 2017). Respondents were interviewed based on a questionnaire adopted and modified from Asante et al. [ 9 ]. The questionnaire involved two phases; the first one was to determine the socio-demographic of the respondents, including gender, age, types of housing, religion, educational level, occupation and the number of occupants in the household. Part two was an assessment to determine the status of household management of solid waste. The questionnaire included both open and closed questions (Dlamini et al. 2017). The closed questions were designed for ease of answering by the respondents with the aim of collecting the maximum appropriate responses, whereas the open questions are intended to encourage respondents to provide further elaboration on certain questions. The reliability of Cronbach’s alpha test of this questionnaire was found to be acceptable (α=0.71). Ethical approval for this study was obtained from the Ethic Committee of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM/JEPeM/17100560).

Data analysis

Data were analyzed using IBM Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) version 24.0. Descriptive analyses were used to report the frequency and percentage of socio-demographic patterns, method of household waste disposal and perceptions of household toward waste management. Chi-square goodness of fit test was used to determine the relationships between categorical variables, which allow us to test whether the observed proportions for a categorical variable differ from the hypothesized proportions [ 24 ]. The null hypothesis of the Chi-Square test is that no relationship exists on the categorical variables in the population; they are independent. Chi-square bivariate correlation test was performed to observe the correlation between the perceptions of waste segregation with socio-demographic background of the respondents [ 29 ]. The correlation between perception of respondents with the locality, house type and waste type were also conducted. Principal component analysis (PCA) was conducted to identify grouping of variables and to establish which factors were interrelated in any given construct, where a set of highly inter-correlated measured variables were grouped into distinct factors [ 24 ]. The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkim (KMO) Measure of Sampling Adequacy and Bartlett's Test of Sphericity was performed to evaluate the data's suitability for exploratory factor analysis [ 69 ].

Socio-demographic Characteristics and Respondents Background in Panji sub-district

We first report descriptive statistics for all variables before discussing results from correlation analysis of socio-demographic factors and respondent’s background with household solid waste management (SWM) practices and perceptions. We then present the Principal Component Analysis (PCA). Table 1 represents the socio-demographic background and characteristics of the respondents in this study. Most of the respondents are from Kg. Belukar (N=125, 37%), followed by Kg. Panji (N=61, 18%), the rest are from Kg. Tapang (N=33), Kg. Chempaka, Taman Desa Kujid, Taman Sri Iman (N=30, respectively) and from Taman Bendahara (N=29). Majority of the respondents are female (N=182, 53.8%) and age between 35 to 49 years old (N=91, 26.9%). Most of the respondents have completed secondary education (N=194, 57.4%) and 31.1% have completed their degree or diploma (N=105). Majority of the respondents are married (75.7%), Muslim (97%) and earned between MYR 1000 to 2000 per month. About 32% of the respondents are self-employed and lived in a bungalow house type (30.5%). Most of the household consist of 4 to 6 occupants (53.6%). Majority of them cook at home (91.4%) on daily basis (68.6%). The Chi-square test shows that there is a significant difference among all categorical variables except for gender (χ 2 = 2.000, p = 0.157).

Proportion of Household Solid Waste Disposed by respondents in Panji Sub-District

Figure 4 represents the type of waste disposed of by respondents in the study. More than half (74.38%) of the waste disposed by household is food debris, followed by plastic waste (19.01%) and bottles (5.79%) while the rest accounts for 0.83%.

figure 4

Types of waste disposed by household in Panji district

Household SWM practices and perceptions among respondents in Panji sub-district

Table 2 shows the household waste management practices and perceptions among respondents in Panji district. In terms of the household SWM practices, about 170 of the respondents (50.3%) segregate their waste at home while the remaining 168 respondents (49.7%) did not practice waste segregation at home. There is no significant difference between those who segregate waste at home and those who don’t (χ 2 =0.12, p=0.91). As shown in Fig. 1 and Table 2 , the major type of waste disposed by respondents are food (N=251, 74.3%). A significant difference was found among the different type of waste disposed (χ 2 =656.56, p<0.001). Out of the 338 respondents interviewed, 75.4% of the respondent themselves normally carries their household waste to the allocated bin or waste collection point provided by the local authority. Majority of the respondents (323 respondents) agree that the waste disposal site provided by the local authorities were appropriate (95.6%) relative to 15 respondents who disagree (4.4%). A significant difference was found between those who responded that appropriate waste disposal site was provided and those who do not (χ2=280.66, p<0.001).

Most of them also have the perception that proper waste management is important (99.7%). More than half (62.4%) of the respondent agrees that it is their responsibility to clean the waste in their residential area while 24.3% suggested that it is the responsibility of the district council. Another 3.3% suggested it is the responsibility of the community members followed by private waste operators (1.5%). The majority (95.9%) of the respondents suggested poor waste management can contribute to disease occurrence, whereas 2.7% suggested it does not cause diseases and another 1.5% were unsure if it causes any diseases.

In terms of the household SWM perceptions, 40.8% of the respondents have responded that other diseases than diarrhea, malaria and typhoid are related to improper waste management. This is followed by diarrhea (30.5%) and malaria (21.9%). Majority of the participants responded that they have awareness on proper waste management (92.9%) and 81.4% responded that cleanliness is the main factor which motivates them to dispose the waste properly. The chi-square test shows that all variables under respondents’ perception differ significantly from the hypothesized values (Table 2 ).

Relationship between socio-demographic characteristics, respondent’s background and household SWM practices (waste segregation practices)

Chi square analysis was performed to find out what factors contribute to waste segregation practices among the respondents (Table 3 ). Results indicate that waste segregation practice was correlated with the locality (χ 2 = 43.35, p<0.001). For instance, out of 29 respondents in Taman Bendahara, all of them segregate their waste (100%). This trend was also observed for Taman Desa Kujid where most of the respondents segregate their waste (22 out of 30, 73.3%). In contrast, most of respondents from the village, did not segregate their waste. For example, out of 125 total number of respondents in Kg Belukar, 53 of them segregates their waste (42.4%) while 72 of them did not (57.6%).

A significant correlation was found between waste segregation practice and age (χ 2 =11.62, p<0.001). Based on the age range of the total number of respondents, respondents at the age of 50-65 years old are those who segregated more than the rest (N=43) and those at the age of 35-49 are those who did not segregate their waste the most (N=52 in Table 3 ). The type of house was significantly correlated with waste segregation practice (χ 2 =12.73, p=0.03). The respondents who live in bungalow houses are those who segregate the most (N=58). Those who live in semi-detached houses also have more respondents (N=24) segregating their waste than those who did not (N=13). Meanwhile those who live in other type of houses, terrace, village and others have more respondents who did not segregate their waste (Table 3 ). Other variables, gender, education level, marital status, monthly income, occupation, the number of persons per household and the practice of cooking at home did not show any significant correlation with waste segregation practice (p>0.05, Table 3 ).

Relationship between respondent’s background and household SWM practices (the type of waste disposed) from the household in Panji sub-district

The chi-square test was also conducted to determine the relationship between socio-demographic characteristics, respondent’s background and the type of waste disposed. There is a significant correlation between locality with the waste type disposed in Panji district (Table 4 ). All localities showed that food waste was the major type of waste being disposed of from the households. A significant correlation was also found between respondents living in different house types with type of waste disposed. Most of the respondents who live in bungalows (N = 81) and other type of house (N = 78) disposed of food as the main waste from their households. Other characteristics were not significantly correlated with type of waste.

Correlation between respondents’ background (locality and/ or house type) and the perception in household SWM (appropriate site of household waste disposal provided by the local council and improper waste management contribute to disease occurrence)

Correlation analysis was also performed to determine what factors contribute towards the perception of household SWM in Panji district. No significant correlation was found between different locality with the appropriate waste disposal site provided (p = 0.152) as most of the locality has an appropriate disposal site (Table 5 ). There was also no significant relationship between type of house with appropriate disposal site provided by the local council (p=0.131). On the other hand, significant correlation was found between locality and the respondent’s perceptions on improper waste management which contribute to disease occurrence (p=0.042). Out of all localities, majority of the respondents from Kg Belukar has the perception that improper waste management contributes to disease occurrence (Table 5 ).

Principal component analysis (PCA)

Principal Component Analysis (PCA) is a dimension-reduction tool that can be used to reduce a large set of variables to a small set that still contains most of the information in the original large set [ 24 ]. It converts a set of observations of possibly correlated variables (entities each of which takes on various numerical values) into a set of values of linearly uncorrelated variables called principal components [ 37 ]. This transformation is defined in such a way that the first principal component has the largest possible variance (that is, accounts for as much of the variability in the data as possible), and each succeeding component in turn has the highest variance possible under the constraint that it is orthogonal to the preceding components.

PCA in this study was performed to determine the variables that influence or related to waste segregation behavior among respondents. Table 6 highlight the PCA analysis to illustrate the component factors that influence waste segregation behavior among respondents in this study. Only 13 significant variables were highlighted in the table with the factor loading of more than 0.5. Only factor loadings value >0.5 are considered for selection and interpretation due to having significant factor loadings influence the acceptable KMO value that represent a significant correlation for the PCA model in the study. The PCA generates four principal components that represent 48.26% of the total variance in the variables dataset and produced an acceptable KMO value of 0.603 (more than 0.5). Bartlett’s test of sphericity showed that PCA could be applied to the data at the p< 0.001 level. This approved that the data met the requirements for factor analysis [ 24 , 69 ].

The component matrix produced in PCA showed that PC1 represents 17.94% of the variance with high positive loading (positive relationship) on age, marital status and, type of house (Table 6 ). This pattern indicates that age, married and type of house were the group that segregates their waste the most. This group of community can be proposed as the target to actively participate in waste management practices within the district. In contrast, locality and education have negative loading or negative relationship with the segregation activity. As a result, policy makers should increase educational activities on proper household waste practices and management related issues to minimize both the environmental and health impacts of household waste practices among the population.

PC2 represents 10.93% of the variance with high loadings on cooking at home and cooking frequency. This pattern implies that those who cook at home and frequently cook were among the most respondents who practice waste segregation. However, no consequences can be drawn about individual factors as these may have the opposite relationship to the observed factor in other components. Similar trend was observed for PC3 whereby 9.96% of the data variance has high loading on the perception of the respondents towards waste management. High loading was observed on perception that improper waste management contributes to disease occurrence and the cleanliness is the main element that motivates them to segregate. PC3 has high negative loading with monthly income. This result suggests that respondents with low income are those who segregate more.

Meanwhile, PC4 represents 9.42% of the data variance. Variables that have high positive loadings were the respondents who brought the waste to the communal bin themselves, indicating that this group of respondents are those who segregate more. High positive loading was also found on the perception that residents are among those responsible for cleaning the residential area. The number of persons living in a household has negative loading in PC4, indicating that the higher the number of people lives in the household, the lesser chances of them to segregate the waste.

Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis.

a 4 components extracted.

b Only cases for which Practice of waste segregation = Yes are used in the analysis phase.

This study explores the behavioral perspective in view that the way people manage waste is associated with their attitude and perception. Individual perception is governed by their background and present situation, shaped by values, moods, socials circumstances and individual expectation (Kaoje et al 2017). The results of this study are discussed from three aspects: (1) characterization of household solid waste management practices and perceptions among respondents (2) correlation between socioeconomic and respondent’s background with waste segregation practices and (3) correlation between socioeconomic and respondent’s background with household waste management perceptions. One of the primary intentions of acquiring the respondent’s characteristics was to understand the correlation between level of involvement in household SWM practices and the characteristics of the respondents.

Food waste was found as the major type of waste disposed by the communities in Panji sub-district (Fig. 1 and Table 2 ). Food waste has high moisture content and causes smell, which subsequently attracts disease vectors, such as flies, mosquitoes and cockroaches, and the proliferation of rodents, such as rats and mice, which pose threats to public health [ 68 , 75 ]. Majority of the respondents were found to cook at home (N=309, 91.4%) and cook on a daily basis (N=232, 68.6%; Table 1 ) which suggests that composting should be incorporated as one of the main approaches for proper waste management practices in the community. Individual compost bin should be provided in each household coupled with adequate training on simple compost technique can be organized within the locality as a stage by stage process. Alternatively, community scale composting can be proposed to focus solely on food waste management which is currently a growing practice among Malaysians [ 38 , 56 ]. This approach is gaining attention because of their lower energy footprint, ease of operation, need for lesser resources, lower operation and maintenance costs which have higher chances of public acceptance [ 32 ]. Food waste is organic waste which can decomposed and degraded into organic matter [ 33 ], which in turn can be used by the public to fertilize their garden soil. Most importantly, the training should emphasize on the practicality and feasible option of composting which is otherwise seen as a time-consuming and burdensome process [ 33 ].

Composting is beneficial to the environment by reducing greenhouse gases emissions and improvement of soil quality when applied to land. Furthermore, it is also in line with the circular economy concept by closing the loop of the system [ 14 ]. On the other hand, there are issues pertaining to its quality such as the nutrient and trace metal content. So, sorting the waste at source play a crucial role in minimising these impurities and collection systems play a fundamental role in removing some pollutants from wastes, especially organic fraction of municipal solid wastes, and improving compost quality [ 13 ]. One way to overcome this is by accommodating the waste collection and composting facilities with easy and convenient measurement of these contents which may be accessible by the community. Community composting programs should incorporate not only the step-by-step procedure of how to do composting but at the same time introducing easy to use kit or techniques applicable to the public and community such as test strip to measure the nutrients and trace metal [ 11 ]. In addition, by adding composting accelerators, the nutritional quality of the compost can be overcome. This factor can be done by developing a manual for public use.

The case of local composting at homes reduces transportation and collection cost by decreasing the amount of domestic waste carried to centralized composting facilities [ 76 ]. At the same time, household waste contains impurities and are widely distributed which hinders the efficiency of centralized composting facilities in disposing them. Centralized composting facilities in Asia suffer from low compost quality and poor sales [ 32 ]. As a result, community composting system at a smaller scale is more convenient within this region.

Composting is linked to diseases such as Aspergillosis, Legionnaire’s disease, histoplasmosis, paronychia and tetanus. In the case of Aspergillosis and Legionnaire’s disease, it may cause higher potential risk in large scale composting facilities compared to the smaller scale composting at home due to massive handling and agitating process in the former [ 26 , 59 ]. Histoplasmosis have been associated with chicken manure used in composting, however it is not able to survive in a well-done composting process [ 39 ]. Therefore, disease spread can be minimised by having local composting at homes and community composting system at a smaller scale than centralized composting facility. The most important thing in minimising disease spread would be the practise of wearing gloves and face mask during this composting activity.

In this study, there was not much difference between the respondents who separated their waste and who did not (Table 2 ), which implies there is room for increasing the practice of waste segregation. Waste segregation practice is lacking in developing countries, most prominently in Asia ( [ 15 , 48 ]; Vassanadumrongdee and Kittipongvises 2018) and African continents (Dlamini et al. 2017; Yoada et al. 2014). Since respondents lack adequate knowledge on the critical importance of waste separation at source in general, the volume of municipal solid waste dumped in landfill sites are progressively increasing, thus jeopardizing the remaining landfill space at a faster rate than initially planned. Therefore, to alleviate this environmental problem in the developing countries in general and in Panji sub-districts, specifically, more focused and sustained public awareness programs, integrated with an enabling infrastructure, are required to change residents’ perceptions toward improved waste separation at source rates [ 49 ]. Additionally, the outcome of the waste segregation activities should be similarly emphasized and how waste minimization in the first instance, and waste segregation at source, will benefit and enhance the standard of living or life quality of households ([ 44 ]; Yoada et al. 2014 [ 49 ];).

The perceptions of the respondents towards waste management were generally good. About 99.7% reported that waste management is important, 62.4% report that it is the responsibility of them to manage waste (Table 2 ). Resident’s participation in waste management activities is one of the ways in maximizing the capture of source-segregated materials which can be facilitated by providing an associated infrastructure [ 58 ]. Nevertheless, there are still some respondents who felt that waste management is not their responsibility, but instead lies mainly on the district council, which highlights the general perception of some Malaysians that waste is a local municipal issue [ 46 ]. About 95.9% of the respondents were aware that improper waste management leads to sicknesses or diseases, which implies that most of the households were aware of the health implication of waste. The management of MSW in developing Asian countries is driven by a public health perspective: the collection and disposal of waste in order to avoid the spread of disease vectors from uncollected waste [ 5 ]. The perception of the remaining 2.7% that waste management does not cause disease and 1.5% who were unsure need to be changed by targeting this group as a follow up program focusing on waste management and health issues. The respondents also have adequate level of awareness and knowledge about proper waste management (92.9%). This high level of awareness is because of several reasons for properly disposing of waste, including cleanliness as the major factor (81.4%), followed by fear of illnesses (12.4%), and odor (6.2%).

Most of the respondents thought that improper waste management could lead to diarrhea and malaria (Table 2 ). Diarrhea and waste management is associated with environmental factors such as waste disposal mechanism. House-to-house waste collection has been shown to decrease the incidence of malaria compared to other waste collection method [ 7 ]. Hence, this implies the possibility of malaria incidence in areas which burn their waste and areas which are inaccessible by any waste collection. Other diseases could be related to typhoid, dysentery, cholera, respiratory infections and injury [ 42 ]. Proper waste management can lead to improvement in the quality of the environment and public health while, mismanagement of waste can be implicated with water, soil and air pollutions [ 1 ], breeding of mosquitos, which in turn, causes disease [ 15 , 68 ]. Although knowledge and awareness are acceptable among the respondents, this perception did not inculcate into waste segregation practices. In order to bridge the gap between awareness and behavior change, it is necessary for individuals to understand the importance of their role in how to do it and why it is important to do so [ 34 ]. More focused, detailed and continuous awareness and knowledge should be emphasized on this aspect specifically in the topics of environmental cleanliness, drainage systems, the recycling process in theory and practice, and a proper way to dispose of wastes [ 61 ].

Our findings have reported that socio-demographic factors (age, marital status) and respondents’ background (locality and house types) have influenced the household waste practices and perceptions in Panji sub-district (Tables 3 , 4 , 5 and 6 ). Age is associated with the maturity of the person which plays a significant factor in impacting their level of awareness on environmental health and sanitation ([ 12 , 17 ]; Meneses and [ 40 , 45 ]). The result of our study is consistent with the findings by Fan et al. [ 22 ] that older individuals prefer to engage more in waste sorting activities than young people in Singapore.

On the other hand, the number of children in the household may be a significant factor that influence waste separation. This for instance has been mentioned in Xu et al., (2017), where the intention of middle-aged adults towards behaving a more eco-friendly system was affected by critical social reference groups around them, such as the interaction with family or the motivation, especially children, and/or the consideration of the health situation of the whole family.

However, in other studies such as in Ittiravivongs [ 28 ] and Vassanadumrongdee & Kittipongvises (2018), socio-demographic variables became insignificant factors that influenced waste segregation participation. Knussen et al., [ 36 ] & White & Hyde [ 73 ] also indicate that the strongest variable influence participation in waste segregation program was past behaviour on regular source separation at home or recycling habit. Having waste separation in the office also could have positive influence on source separation intention, which is consistent with the study of Saphores et al. [ 64 ].

Considering number of children in the analysis is beyond the scope of this paper. Our result indicates that there is no significant difference in the waste segregation practice by the number of occupants in the household (χ 2 = 2.36, p = 0.31). For instance, the results show 54.2% of household with more than 6 occupants practice waste segregation, as compared to those who are not at 45.8%. This would suggest that the number of children in the house could be less influence on the waste segregation practice or vice versa. Future study may consider number of children in the family as one of the variables to be tested to confirm the hypothesis.

It was interesting to note that the types of housing in the case study were found to contribute heavily to the practices and perceptions of household waste management. Respondents who lived in bungalows (30.5%) and other type of houses than semi-detached, terrace and village (28.4%) are most likely to segregate their waste. Bungalows are associated with high income areas in Malaysia [ 53 ], which could be related to waste collection services are provided from these areas and possibly these households subscribe to this service. Potentially, these types of houses also have more space to be allocated for waste sorting than the other type of houses.

Other socio-demographic characteristics such as gender, education level and monthly income did not influence the practices and perceptions of the respondents. There were no significant associations between gender and waste segregation practices (χ 2 =0.596, p=0.440). Our finding is contrasting to the study by Ehrampoush and Moghadam [ 18 ] which reported that gender is likely to have an influence on the perceptions of household SWM. This view is supported by Mukherji et al. [ 48 ] who found that women, because of traditional gender roles associated with their household activities, have a closer engagement with waste management at household level.

The level of education has been reported as an important factor that could influence people’s perception of household waste management [ 40 ]. In this study, most of the respondents received their education until secondary school (57.4%), followed by diploma or degree (31.1%) but this did not influence their household SWM practices and perception (χ 2 =6.188, p=0.19), in particular waste segregation practice (Table 3 ). The poor average income of respondents is considered a very important variable that could influence people’s perception and attitudes negatively on solid waste management system (Parfitt et al. 1994 [ 40 ];). But, this is not the case in our study as economic consideration appears not to play a major role in the respondent’s perception as well as attitude to solid waste management practices (χ 2 =4.55, p=0.47).

The outcome from the PCA analysis showed that age, marital status and type of housing are the factors which contributed the most to waste segregation practices at home. Our finding agrees with the study by Vassanadumrongdee and Kittipongvises (2018) which found that age and family with children have a positive influence on respondent's source separation. Age was also a determinant factor in waste management practices in other studies [ 2 , 15 ]. With aging and married respondents, this could be highly related to the increasing sense of responsibility towards the environment and the importance of increasing the quality of life among household members. Types of housing could be related to either waste collection services were provided in these areas or that limited number of households subscribe to their service. Other studies in the literature have reported on the positive relationship between residence types and waste separation practices ([ 15 ]; Vassanadumrongdee and Kittipongvises 2018).

The high loadings on cooking at home and cooking frequency towards waste segregation practices indicate that these groups of respondents can be chosen for further interventions in terms of adopting proper waste management practices such as small-scale composting, recycling and waste minimization practices. The lifestyle of the respondents plays a significant role in the daily waste disposal practices in households (Yoada et al. 2014 [ 15 ];). The link between improper waste management practice and disease occurrence was also reported in studies in Ghana (Yoada et al. 2014 [ 2 ];). Their studies also reported that cleanliness was the main factor which motivates them to segregate the waste which is concurrent with the findings in this study.

Education is negatively related to waste segregation activity (Table 6 ), indicating that people with lower education are more willing to segregate their waste as compared to those with higher education. The likely reasons could be related to different lifestyle and time constraint to allocate purposely for waste sorting activities [ 15 ]. People with higher education level may be spending most of their time at the workplace, and not at home. However, more educational campaign should be promoted by emphasizing on the benefits of waste segregation activities. Sufficient knowledge, such as clear instructions provided in a communication and collection campaign, can increase the probability of waste separation behavior (Vassanadumrongdee and Kittipongvises S 2018).

The higher number of occupants living in the household is associated with a less likely chance of segregating the waste (Table 6 ). The result of our study is consistent with the study by Addo et al. [ 2 ] which reported that household sizes of 4 to 6 and above 7 were less likely to engage in the practice of waste management as compared to household size below 4 people. This is probably due to the household size tends to reduce the quantity of household waste and the practice of waste management. In contrast, studies by Osbjer et al. [ 54 ], indicate that waste management practice is associated with a higher number of people in the households, which could possibly be due to the need to handle waste generated by larger populations within the household.

One of the objectives of this study was to determine variables that influence waste segregation behavior among respondents. The PCA was adapted for this objective rather than correlation analysis for several reason. The correlation coefficient assumes a linear association where any linear transformation of variables will not affect the correlation. However, variables X and Y may also have a non-linear association, which could still yield a low correlation coefficient [ 30 ]. In addition, the correlation coefficient cannot be interpreted as causal.

It is possible that there is a causal effect of one variable on the other, but there may also be other possible explanations that the correlation coefficient does not take into account. Since several variables may influence respondent’s behavior on waste segregation activity at one time, the correlation coefficient analysis may not adequate to identify the significant variables and the connectivity between them accurately. Therefore, PCA was used to help us understand the connection between these variables as it can identify the correlation among the features efficiently.

There are thousands of features in the dataset that possible to highlight some trend or the influence of one factor to another. There are challenges to visualize the algorithm on all features efficiently especially when the performance of the algorithm may reduce with the bigger dataset. The PCA improve the algorithm performance by getting rid of correlated variables which don't contribute to the model and the analysis of the algorithms reduces significantly with less number of features. The Principal Components are also independent of one another. There is no correlation among them. It also reduces overfitting by reducing the number of features where it mainly occurs when there are too many variables in the dataset.

The scenario of the covid-19 pandemic contributes to a significant challenge in managing household waste management globally and specifically in developing countries. Waste management in the pandemic scenario requires consideration in SARS-CoV-2 transmission through MSW handling that includes survival time of the virus on the surfaces: population density and socioeconomic conditions [ 35 ]. In general, waste management phases (waste packing and delivering by the users; waste withdrawal; waste transport; and waste treatment) exposed the community and workers to direct contact with contaminated objects and surfaces; as well as contact with airborne droplets at a distance that may lead to the covid-19 [ 16 ]. Due to these reasons, waste management practices are designed to respond to the pandemic through changes in the collection system, allocation of treatment options, safety measure and priority separation, and functionality of circular economy strategies [ 72 ].

As a developing country, it is predicted that the effect of covid-19 on the waste management practices are more crucial due to the increase in disposable personal protective equipment at the household level and changes in eating habits, as a consequence of lifestyle disruptions and psychological stress due to lockdowns [ 4 , 55 ]. Developing countries have a higher risk of waste and wastewater contamination, leading to significant public health issues [ 71 ]. Inefficient waste management practices such as insecure landfills, lack of technical knowledge, scientific and economic resources, and lack of waste emergency policies produce severe consequences to the community and workers [ 63 , 65 , 71 ].

In order to improve the level of household solid waste management in the study area and Malaysia in general, it is important to empower the key drivers. The key drivers can be categorized as institutional-administrative, technological, economical, and social drivers [ 70 ]. A strong policy that implements direct regulation and enforcement; provide economic incentives or disincentives; and inform, interact and engage with the community are required [ 60 ].

Household solid waste management technologies that are being practised globally are landfilling, incineration, pyrolysis, Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), gasification, and anaerobic digestion [ 57 ]. As a developing country that focuses on solid waste management through landfilling, it is important to put extra attention on: i. decentralization of household solid waste management; ii. segregation at the source; iii. hygienic and safe handling; iv. flammable landfilll gasses handling; v. soil salinity from compost application; vi. Sustainable landfill management; vii. alternative markets for energy products; and viii. Implementation of the “pay as you throw” system [ 50 ].

Practical Implications, Study Limitations and Future Perspectives

This study highlights that waste segregation practice among respondents are still low and food waste are mixed with other household waste. This study provides as a baseline data in the region where less study was emphasized.

Quantitative and qualitative approach were used in this study by adopting descriptive and statistical analysis to improve the significance of the issue. Despite the significance of some aspects of this study, further studies should be done to incorporate children and teenagers as the participants and a more detailed questionnaire incorporating detailed health implications. Apart from that, a cross-sectional survey using random sampling technique was used to assess the household SWM practices and perceptions among the residents. This study is also limited to only Panji sub-districts which requires a wider region to generalize the findings of the study. The survey questionnaires depend on self-reporting manner, which may be subject to bias. Further study is recommended to engage observation at houses or at the waste collecting points to complement the survey. Moreover, the association between household socio-economic factors and health implications were limited. Future study should address this factor for a more focused and sustained public awareness programs.

Conclusions

The study found that the waste segregation practice among respondents can be considered as low, where the number of respondents who segregate their waste was equivalent to those who did not, which implies there is room for improvement. The main component of solid waste generated at home was largely food debris that has the potential to be composted and plastics that can be recycled, which were mainly disposed without separation. The local solid waste management authority should focus on utilizing this organic waste through a larger scale and wider involvement of the locals in composting program. The growth of small-scale community-based waste composting can act as a potential start up venue in accelerating this program, without the necessity of extensive investment by the local authority. The authority in the study area has provided appropriate waste disposal sites, but there are also some that were disposed in inappropriate sites. Majority of the respondents were also aware that improper waste management can lead to diseases. Age, marital status and, type of house was found to be the group that segregate their waste the most, indicating that respondents which fall under this category can be the target for further intervention programs. This study suggests the local authorities to design waste separation programs that suit the needs of targeted population, to ensure high participation rate among the community. Marketing and campaigns should emphasize the positive perception and attitude towards waste separation at home and also negative perception of non-participants. This study may provide authorities in Malaysia with baseline information to set the future implementations of waste segregation activities in households. This study also suggests focusing on inculcating community involvement in doing waste separation at source, waste reduction and recycling as a habit and way of life. The local authority may facilitate this activity by providing bins to segregate wastes, establishing waste banks and recycling facilities at a wider scale than the scattered existing ones. Both a top-down and bottom-up approach should work hand in-hand to realize the sustainable solid waste management as a success.

Nevertheless, acknowledging the limitations of the current study, a more detailed and thorough study should incorporate a wider region, in-depth association of waste separation programs and health implications. Combining survey questionnaire with statistical analysis act as a stepping stone to expand the study by engaging the community in actual waste separation activities. This can be done by initiating a collaboration between the local authority, the leader in a community and the residents itself as a pilot study. In addition, the findings of this study will serve as baseline evidence and pave the way for other researchers and policymakers to conduct more rigorous studies on this arena.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets supporting the conclusions of this article are included within the supplementary material section.

Abbreviations

Statistical Package for Social Science

Solid Waste Management

municipal solid waste

not in my backyard

Kota Bharu Municipal Council

Sustainable Development Goals

Malaysian Ringgit

Principal component analysis

Kaiser-Meyer-Olkim

Refuse Derived Fuel

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to everybody who completed the questionnaires and to Miss Aisyah Ariff, Miss Zetty Hiddayah binti Zuharizam and Mr Wan Izulfikri bin Wan Mohd Roslan for assisting in data collection.

This study was financially supported by Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia (Postdoctoral Fellowship SLAB) and Universiti Sains Malaysia. None of the funders were involved in the design of the study, in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data and in the writing of the manuscript.

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Widad Fadhullah, Nor Iffah Najwa Imran & Hasmah Abdullah

School of Industrial Technology, Universiti Sains Malaysia, USM, 11800, Penang, Malaysia

Widad Fadhullah & Mohd Hafiidz Jaafar

Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Putra Malaysia, 43400, Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia

Sharifah Norkhadijah Syed Ismail

Biomedicine Program, School of Health Sciences, Health Campus, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 16150, Kubang Kerian, Kelantan, Malaysia

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WF contributed in conceptualization and writing the manuscript. NINI collected the data, contributed to the literature review and execute the project. SNSI contributed in the formal analysis, methodology, data curation and the tables and figures. MHJ contributed to editing of the manuscript. HA contributed in supervision, project administration and planning. All authors have read and approved the final version of this manuscript.

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Fadhullah, W., Imran, N.I.N., Ismail, S.N.S. et al. Household solid waste management practices and perceptions among residents in the East Coast of Malaysia. BMC Public Health 22 , 1 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-12274-7

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literature review on poor solid waste management

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Assessment methods for solid waste management: A literature review

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2014, Waste management & research : the journal of the International Solid Wastes and Public Cleansing Association, ISWA

Assessment methods are common tools to support decisions regarding waste management. The objective of this review article is to provide guidance for the selection of appropriate evaluation methods. For this purpose, frequently used assessment methods are reviewed, categorised, and summarised. In total, 151 studies have been considered in view of their goals, methodologies, systems investigated, and results regarding economic, environmental, and social issues. A goal shared by all studies is the support of stakeholders. Most studies are based on life cycle assessments, multi-criteria-decision-making, cost-benefit analysis, risk assessments, and benchmarking. Approximately 40% of the reviewed articles are life cycle assessment-based; and more than 50% apply scenario analysis to identify the best waste management options. Most studies focus on municipal solid waste and consider specific environmental loadings. Economic aspects are considered by approximately 50% of the studies, and onl...

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Past, present, and future of sustainable intensive care: narrative review and a large hospital system experience

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Healthcare systems are large contributors to global emissions, and intensive care units (ICUs) are a complex and resource-intensive component of these systems. Recent global movements in sustainability initiatives, led mostly by Europe and Oceania, have tried to mitigate ICUs’ notable environmental impact with varying success. However, there exists a significant gap in the U.S. knowledge and published literature related to sustainability in the ICU. After a narrative review of the literature and related industry standards, we share our experience with a Green ICU initiative at a large hospital system in Texas. Our process has led to a 3-step pathway to inform similar initiatives for sustainable (green) critical care. This pathway involves (1) establishing a baseline by quantifying the status quo carbon footprint of the affected ICU as well as the cumulative footprint of all the ICUs in the healthcare system; (2) forming alliances and partnerships to target each major source of these pollutants and implement specific intervention programs that reduce the ICU-related greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste; and (3) finally to implement a systemwide Green ICU which requires the creation of multiple parallel pathways that marshal the resources at the grass-roots level to engage the ICU staff and institutionalize a mindset that recognizes and respects the impact of ICU functions on our environment. It is expected that such a systems-based multi-stakeholder approach would pave the way for improved sustainability in critical care.

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literature review on poor solid waste management

Introduction

Climate change is one of the major grand challenges humanity faces in the twenty-first century. The burning of fossil fuels is the largest contributor to climate change, responsible for over 75% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions [ 1 ]. Among many industries that contribute to GHG emissions, the complexity and growth of global healthcare systems have led to an exponential impact from an environmental standpoint. Healthcare’s carbon emissions and footprints are estimated to be as high as 5% globally, with the United States taking the plurality (one-quarter) of this share [ 2 , 3 ]. Nations with overall high footprints attribute a substantial percentage coming from healthcare (e.g., an Australian assessment found 7% of total carbon was attributable to healthcare industry [ 4 ]); even when the overall industry-specific footprint is lower (as in China), proportions are concentrated around medical supply chain [ 5 ]. The movement to plastic and disposable products has also been a key facilitator to a rapid expansion of care, albeit at the significant cost to the environment [ 6 ]. Other healthcare-related environmental factors include carbon emissions in procurement wastes [ 7 ], direct energy consumptions of equipment [ 8 ], and travel options for patients [ 9 ].

Huffling and Schenk [ 10 ] described a vicious cycle between healthcare and climate change: the healthcare sector’s negative impact on environmental harm contributes to illness or poor health, which then further contributes to more healthcare needs and subsequent environmental harm. GHGs advance climate change and negatively impact air quality, in turn negatively impacting health outcomes. As we continue to experience more frequent extremes including record heatwaves, our clinicians will continue to see its impact on respiratory, renal, and cardiovascular disease. Observational evidence suggests that heat plays a major role in deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease each year [ 11 ].

In the United States, the quest for sustainability started with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 which declared sustainability a national policy [ 12 ]. Since the enactment of the policy, there has been great interest among the public and stakeholders. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes industry-specific reports including EPA/310-R-05-002 [ 13 ], which addresses the responsibilities and challenges of the healthcare industry. Such policies, if implemented well, may inform sustainability efforts that will likely produce a wide range of benefits for any organization, including financial (e.g., energy-saving) and operating efficiencies (e.g., waste reduction may result in reduced workload and streamlined processes), while supporting a growing green economy. However, implementing such policies may be challenging. Adding a layer of environmental sustainability considerations and logistics may appear to be a daunting task, especially in complex environments such as intenstive care units (ICUs).

The complexity of ICU operations may result in extensive waste generation compared to acute care units. For instance, a 12-bed intensive care unit in Brooklyn, New York, generated 7.1 kg of solid waste and 138kg carbon dioxide emissions per bed day [ 14 ]. The same hospital reported a 48-bed acute care unit generating 5.5kg of solid waste and 45kg of carbon dioxide emissions per hospital day [ 14 ]. Critical care has therefore been described as a locus of several of the healthcare industry’s “carbon hotspots” [ 15 ]. Despite the importance of sustainability for ICUs, the efforts in the United States have been limited and little has been done to summarize such efforts in this area to inform effective interventions. While the reason for such a paucity of sustainable healthcare initiatives is not well-documented, some (e.g., Richie, 2014 [ 16 ]) attribute this gap in most part to the political climate in the U.S. In this paper, we aim to review the current state of published sustainability efforts globally, specifically highlighting the U.S. critical care context; share our current sustainability efforts at a large, greater metropolitan area hospital system in Texas; and propose a pathway to a green ICU grounded in our exposure to various barriers and successes.

Previous research on sustainability in critical care

Sustainability in critical care has been investigated in terms of various aspects including environmental, structural, and financial.

Environmental approaches

Efforts have focused on quantifying carbon emissions and footprints [ 6 , 9 , 17 , 18 ] to assess the impact of critical care on environment along the life cycle [ 8 , 19 , 20 , 21 ]. Notably, Sherman et al. [ 17 ] proposed a comprehensive approach to sustainable healthcare emissions research based on a narrative review. This approach enables the top-down or bottom-up assessment of healthcare services as it frames the research studies around multiple levels including global supply chain, national healthcare sectors, healthcare systems, medical facilities (e.g., hospitals and clinics), clinical care pathways and procedures, and lastly individual drugs, medical devices, and basic materials. Yet, according to Huffling and Schenk [ 10 ], environmental sustainability in ICUs can be evaluated beyond carbon emissions, from the perspectives of waste (e.g., pharmaceuticals, medical or non-medical products and equipment), energy (e.g., lights, temperature settings, monitors, pumps, computers, TVs, batteries, and other equipment that seem to line the walls), toxic chemicals (e.g., air, dust, products, and food), and healing environment (e.g., noise, fast-paced tasks, and stress for staff as well as patients and their family members).

Waste in critical care has been of the topic of great interest to researchers and practitioners alike [ 17 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 ], with various case studies published showcasing wasteful stocking and disposal practices. For example, Hunfeld et al. [ 21 ] reported that individual units used per ICU patient per day to be high as 108 disposable gloves, 57 compresses, 34 liquid medicine (infusion bags), 24 syringes, 23 tubes and connectors, 16 disposable clothing, 14 cups and containers, 11 tablets and capsules, 9 surgical masks, and 8 bed liners. The investigation of daily and best practices has centered on the actions of managing waste (without compromising safe and quality care) such as “reduce, reuse, recycle, and rethink” [ 15 , 18 , 19 ]. Those actions have been discussed alongside the incorporation of Lean Six Sigma—which emphasizes, among other process improvement techniques, continuous improvement in waste elimination [ 26 ]—and other quality management initiatives into critical care settings [ 25 , 27 ]. A recent systematic review of waste management practices [ 25 ] found various types of interventions used in longitudinal studies including: policy changes, educational programs, operational procedure changes, waste sorting changes, Lean Six Sigma/total quality management, supply changes, and waste disposal changes. Notably, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought additional attention to waste management practices in critical care [ 24 ].

The waste management practices elicited from surveys, interviews, and observations of critical care professionals in Canada and Finland [ 27 , 28 , 29 ] have shown a common tendency to discuss barriers and facilitators to environmental sustainability based on patient care, organizational, and technological contexts. For instance, Kalogirou et al. [ 29 ] found that patient care and organizational contexts may physically and culturally influence the capabilities of professionals to promote and engage with responsible practices. Nurses participating in semi-structured interviews viewed environmentally sustainable practices to be at odds with both patient care priorities (e.g., patient care workload did not leave bandwidth to consider the environment) and with the organization’s priorities, support, and culture for strategic and operational management (e.g., when their organization puts budget as the top priority). On the other hand, Kallio et al. [ 28 ] and Yu and Baharmand [ 27 ] emphasized the utilization of functional facilities for waste sorting, training, and visible internal communications and reporting related to environmental sustainability.

Structural and financial approaches

Structural and financial aspects of sustainability have also been investigated in critical care settings. Structurally, Halpern et al. [ 30 ] elaborated the evolution of ICU designs in the United States over four decades and highlighted that the evolution was guided by the shift from paper-based medical records to electronic health records. The technical shift has naturally required the support of advanced computers and displays, as well as other standalone informatics platforms such as physiological monitors, mechanical ventilators, infusion pumps, and beds. Financially, critical care has been characterized as expensive and wasteful; accordingly, sustainability efforts in critical care settings have been emphasized to decrease both healthcare costs and environmental hazards. For instance, Van Demark et al. [ 31 ] described their institutional efforts toward environmental sustainability in critical care with a project to reduce the amount of waste generated by hand surgery and showed decrease in both surgical costs and surgical waste while maintaining patient safety and satisfaction.

Global trends in critical care sustainability

The World Health Organization (WHO) has emphasized the importance of sustainable healthcare practices globally, encouraging member states to develop and implement strategies that address environmental concerns. Accordingly, healthcare systems around the world have strived to integrate sustainability into ICU operations. Indeed, the intersection of sustainability and critical care (including surgical, medical, pediatric, and cardiac intensive care, burn care, and neonatal intensive care [ 13 ]) is well-studied with Europe [ 21 , 28 ], the United Kingdom [ 8 , 9 , 32 ], Canada [ 22 , 27 , 29 ], and Australia and New Zealand [ 7 , 33 ] at the forefront of such movement, including educational and advocacy materials [ 15 , 19 , 23 , 34 , 35 ]. European countries have made strides in adopting renewable energy sources and implementing energy-efficient technologies within healthcare facilities. In 2008, The European Union launched the Green Public Procurement (GPP), which is a process that guides sustainable purchasing decisions, including those related to ICU equipment and supplies [ 36 ]. Australia has led impactful initiatives such as the National Health Sustainability and Climate Unit [ 37 ] and National Health and Climate Strategy [ 38 ] which reflect a commitment to sustainability in healthcare, promoting energy efficiency, and responsible resource consumption in ICUs and other medical settings. Such initiatives have shown positive impacts on waste reduction. For example, an Australian staff-driven initiative reduced waste and increased recycling by replacing polystyrene beverage cups with recyclable cups and placing recycling stations in the ICU [ 39 ]. Recent evidence suggests that there is a dedicated clinician or team for Green initiatives in 65% of New Zealand ICUs and 40% of Australian ICUs as of the 2020–2021 financial year [ 40 ]. The Australian-based report ANZICS: A Beginners Guide to Sustainability in the ICU [ 33 ] and the resulting sustainability toolkit have been widely cited; however, this report and other prior work has generally not been widely translated into clinical impact, especially in the United States.

Critical care sustainability in the United States

Broadly stated, there exists a significant gap in U.S. knowledge and published literature related to sustainability in the ICU [ 6 , 10 , 17 , 20 , 24 , 25 , 30 , 31 ]. In addition, despite occasional features in society meetings, U.S. critical care societies have not released any position statements on the impact of sustainability in critical care. Indeed, sustainable ICU initiatives are in their infancy in the United States. In June 1998, the Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) was launched as a collaboration between the EPA and the American Hospital Association. H2E is currently a leading provider of tools and resources to help hospitals turn their operations green from front end materials purchased to back end waste management [ 41 ]. The group’s goals included total mercury waste reduction by 2005, overall hospital waste reduction of 33% by 2005 and 50% by 2010, and identifying additional substances to minimize/eliminate to prevent further pollution [ 42 ]. A follow up report was published by the EPA in May 2006 regarding the progress of these goals. It was noted that 75% of H2E partners had completely eliminated mercury-containing devices and 90% of hospitals had reduced mercury-containing devices [ 43 ]. However, at the time of writing, no progress has been made on the waste and pollution reduction initiatives.

In 2009, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) reference guides and rating systems for building design, construction, and existing operations (as amended and expanded to include healthcare) [ 44 , 45 , 46 ]. This guide is a toolkit and rating system for sustainable design and operations in healthcare facilities, including critical care areas. It contains recommendations such as the implementation of energy-efficient technologies, such as LED lighting and high-efficiency HVAC systems, contributing to reduced energy consumption and operational costs [ 46 ]. Complementing the LEED for Healthcare rating system as a third-party form of certification, the Green Guide for Health Care ™ (GGHC) is a voluntary self-certifying tool and joint project of Health Care Without Harm and the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems; GGHC represents a culmination of several years of close collaboration with and guidance from the USGBC [ 47 , 48 ].

LEED for Healthcare was written primarily for inpatient and outpatient care facilities and licensed long-term care facilities. It can also be used for medical offices, assisted living facilities, and medical education and research centers. LEED for Healthcare addresses design and construction activities for both new buildings and major renovations of existing buildings. For a major renovation of an existing building, LEED for Healthcare is the appropriate rating system. If the project focuses more on operations and maintenance activities LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance is more appropriate [ 45 , 46 ].

Several awards and distinctions have been established to recognize hospital systems for their efforts in sustainability in the healthcare realm. Practice Greenhealth is an organization that focuses on sustainability solutions for healthcare systems. In 2023, they named 25 hospitals to receive the Environmental Excellence Award for hospitals leading in healthcare sustainability performance [ 49 ]. The Greenhealth Emerald Award is an honor given to the top 20% of Partner for Change applicants and recognizes hospitals that have excellent sustainability programs and superior scores in multiple sustainability categories [ 50 ]. Additionally, Becker’s Healthcare has published a list several years running of the “Greenest Hospitals in America,” selected based on nominations and editorial research [ 51 ]. These honors provide a benchmark for hospital and healthcare systems to strive for when creating their sustainability programs.

Our sustainability initiative

Houston Methodist (HM) is establishing a firm commitment to creating an environmentally sustainable healthcare institution. HM is a health system comprising eight hospitals throughout the Greater Houston metropolitan area (a 13-county region spanning over 10,000 square miles with a demographically diverse epicenter [ 52 ]) including Houston Methodist Hospital, the flagship academic hospital in the Texas Medical Center, and six community hospitals, as well as one long-term acute care hospital and a seventh community hospital under construction (as of writing).

Unit- and department-specific sustainability efforts depend on broader organizational support and prioritization [ 29 ]. Earlier this year, HM established an Office of Sustainability to oversee and direct the responsible use of resources to conserve the environment and to support system-wide efforts that balance economic viability, social equity, and environmental protection. HM has already rolled out important environmental sustainability initiatives. For example, the system is currently in the design phase for installing solar panels on some of its main buildings in the Texas Medical Center. This project, in partnership with Houston Methodist's Energy and Facilities workgroup, will be the first step toward renewable energy consumption for the hospital. HM has also launched food composting initiatives at its community hospital locations in Sugar Land, The Woodlands, and Willowbrook—with plans for additional campuses to follow. According to the Office of Sustainability, the hospital system has already diverted nearly 100,000 lbs. of food waste from landfills. HM also focuses on preventing waste by recycling or reusing items, from creating a workflow that enables reusing items that can be sanitized to sustainably disposing of expired materials. Finally, another notable initiative is incorporating greenspace for patients to enjoy. Houston Methodist Hospital is currently constructing a 26-story hospital tower that will feature the Centennial Rooftop Garden on the 14th floor.

Several ICU-based projects are in various stages of implementation throughout our hospital system. Most of these initiatives have a low barrier to entry with minimal need for additional personnel or equipment and therefore negligible cost implications. For instance, multiple ICU units within our health system are examining strategies to reduce the amount of unused supply waste, an identified priority considering just one of the ICUs in our health system was found to use 1,464,262 medical supplies in a 6-month period. Some interventions include staff education, changing the supplies in premade procedure kits, using a procedure cart to store supplies, and creating an airway box for intubation supplies. Staff education includes providing awareness of the issue of bringing a surplus of supplies into a patient’s room as well as inappropriately opening the code cart for a supply that is available in another area within the ICU. In addition to reducing excess supplies, teams are attempting to reduce the amount of unnecessary oxygen used in the ICU.

To meet escalating critical care needs, HM also launched a systemwide virtual ICU (vICU) program [ 53 , 54 ], with potential low-carbon implications. This state-of the-art facility leverages the digital transformation of in-hospital care to incorporate remote monitoring and interactive video conferencing. The vICUs’ “consultant bridge” application allows virtual specialist patient consultations, virtual family visits, tele-rounding, and reduction in staff commuting—innovations that reduce travel-associated carbon without compromising the quality and safety of patient care [ 55 ]. These contributions to reducing the carbon footprint are expected to be significant considering that they target critical care’s specific “carbon hotspots” in the healthcare sector [ 15 ], and that similarly significant carbon footprint reductions have been observed for telemedicine programs in broader healthcare delivery contexts in both the U.S. and internationally [ 56 , 57 , 58 , 59 ]. In our tele-critical care experience, and in line with other telemedicine reviews [ 60 , 61 ], telemedicine results in the reduction of interhospital transfers, enabling remote patient evaluations that decreases unnecessary patient transports to tertiary care centers, resulting in potentially singificant cut in the carbon footprint associated with such long-distance travel. It should be noted, however, that studies do not consistently consider additional factors beyond travel in the the emission calculations [ 56 ], e.g., energy and equipment requirements for virtual hubs may require further study.

While the initial programs may seem simplistic in nature, we anticipate barriers to arise as the initiatives expand. These barriers include buy-in from the stakeholders involved in the interventions, resistance to change, and longevity of programs given the nature of human behavior to revert to old habits. In addition, as inititives become more resource-intensive (such as the installation of solar panels), we anticipate even more resistance and significant financial and administrative barriers. Finally, collecting pre- and post-intervention data may impose new workflows, added to already high workloads, and require additional resources. These anticipated barriers underscore the need for continuous stakeholder engagement to inform developments.

A proposed pathway for sustainable ICUs

Grounded in our experience with HM Green ICU efforts, we propose a 3-step pathway to inform similar initiatives for sustainable (green) critical care. The first step in creating an environmentally sustainable ICU is to establish a baseline by quantifying the status quo carbon footprint of the affected ICU as well as the cumulative footprint of all the ICUs in the healthcare system—a step that will require collaboration and partnership with different departments and stakeholders across the system; sustainability effort is a team commitment where each stakeholder, including the clinician leaders and not just administrators and operational leadership, needs to be aware and involved. ICUs and acute care facilities contribute significantly to a hospital’s overall GHG emissions and its solid waste generation. The second step is to form alliances and partnerships to target each major source of these pollutants and implement specific intervention programs that reduce the ICU-related GHG emissions and solid waste. In the third step, successful implementation of a systemwide Green ICU will require the creation of multiple parallel pathways that marshal the resources at the grass-roots level to engage the ICU staff and institutionalize a mindset that recognizes and respects the impact of ICU functions on our environment. These steps are detailed below.

Step 1: Conduct life cycle assessment of ICU products and processes

To establish a baseline for ICU carbon footprint, environmental experts should be engaged to carry a comprehensive audit of the ICU, quantifying the financial and nonfinancial cost of all the inputs and outputs of ICU operations. For example, sustainability teams or offices may partner with local universities that have an established environmental sustainability program to carry out such an audit. Table 1 summarizes some of the proposed audit components.

This audit should provide GHG emissions and solid waste generation per patient, ICU bed, and square footage of the physical space. Another component that may be included is the impact of transportation of ICU staff and patients from home or other medical facilities to the ICU. Medical transport, such as “life flight” services may have significant impact on the environment worth quantifying in future studies. In addition to establishing the status quo of the ICU carbon footprint, the audit teams should provide guidelines about what level of reduction in the carbon footprint would be pragmatic and achievable over a clearly defined period.

When looking to determine emissions and utilize emissions factors, many companies offer software suites that healthcare systems may find costly. While we hope to see lower cost/no cost access to user friendly emissions quantification systems, other resources are available for less resourced settings. When looking to quantify emissions, emissions factors are available through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [ 62 ] and Greenhouse Gas Protocol website of the World Resources Institute and World Business Council for Sustainable Development [ 63 ]. Additionally, Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm provide resources or direction to resources, including the GGHC as discussed above.

Step 2: Develop green ICU interventions through strategic partnerships

Most health systems and hospitals have formed an office or executive role for sustainability, or minimally may have executives willing to champion sustainability efforts. Partnerships with such offices will allow collaboration with many stakeholders and decision makers outside of the ICU walls to create intervention “bundles” inside and outside the ICU to reduce the carbon footprint by a defined target amount over a stated period. Table 2 summarizes several areas that may be addressed by the experts from outside the ICU such as facilities management and IT.

Step 3: Create green ICU teams comprised of ICU staff— a grass-roots effort

To create a culture and mindset of “green ICU” with the overarching goal of mitigating the ICU-generated pollutants, several Green Teams should be formed, each tasked with implementing a “bundle” of environmental interventions. The Green Teams should include representation by all the functional roles of the facility, including doctors, nurses, technicians, administrators, and custodial staff.

Green Teams serve as the local champions for sustainability and can take the lead in creating the culture for “green” thinking. Guidelines focusing on 3Rs (“Reduce / Recycle / Rethink”) along with such strategies as “Less is More” should be used as educational tools to increase awareness of the impact of resource usage in the ICU. The guidelines, however, should give priority to the demands of patient care. No environmental sustainability directive should compromise the heath and safety of patients or override the judgement of physicians and family members. Table 3 summarizes some of the areas that may be addressed by the 3R team structure.

Recycle team

Certain products can significantly reduce pollution from medical waste. The goal for recycling is reduction of landfill waste and reduction of costs for facilities that purchase the recycled items. Difficulty in sorting the plastic waste and risk of transmitting potential infections limit the practice of recycling medical supplies. Placement of recycling containers for adequate sorting of products is essential. These items can be sent to a third-party facility where items are cleaned, sterilized, and sold back to hospitals for discounted rates [ 14 , 64 , 65 ].

Reduce team

One of the main responsibilities of the reduce team is to identify opportunities for conservation. The complexity of critical care requires large quantities of medical supplies needed for patient care. Infection control precautions demand single use packaging which creates high frequency of plastics waste. Nursing staff often anticipate the use of supplies and pre-stock the room, which results in items that go unused and unopened. This practice creates a surplus of medical supply waste, specifically in the isolation rooms. It is important to raise awareness over infection control policy regarding restrictions of medical supplies taken into isolation rooms. Understanding that unopened supplies will be discarded may trigger staff to help conserve medical supplies. Another option to raise awareness about conservation practices could be to make a price list of supplies. Cognizance over the monetary cost of supply waste may trigger staff to conserve.

Rethink team

Improving awareness by providing education about the recycle and reduce efforts may play a major role in increasing readiness for change to accommodate new policies and processes related to sustainability. For example, education on the composition of recyclable items will be an important part of the green initiative. Plastic recycling can be categorized by ease of recycling type. Education over categories of plastic may help staff understand which supplies are recyclable.

Once the environmental sustainability guidelines have been established for the ICU and the intervention programs have been implemented, periodic progress checks would be needed to measure the effectiveness of the program and possible impact on the ICU footprint. It must be emphasized that the environmental sustainability programs should not compromise quality of patient care and patient safety. For example, switching from single-use to reusable equipment should not increase the risk of infection for the ICU patient. Figure  1 provides an overview of the proposed pathway.

figure 1

Overview of the porposed pathway for sustainable (Green) ICUs

Conclusions

While the precise accumulated negative environmental effect of thousands of ICUs across the United States remains unknown, such effects represent a significant portion of the healthcare industry’s contribution to the overall carbon footprint. While efforts are in place to improve sustainability in ICUs, there is a general gap in implementation of effective interventions globally and especially in the United States. This paper presents a pathway for such intitiaves grounded in our implementation of a Green ICU in a large health system. A systems approach that involves various stakeholders is necessary to create a plan for effective recycling of medical supplies, reducing unnecessary supplies, and raising awareness of the urgency and value of such initiatives. The proposed pathway has minimal requirements for additional resources and is expected to generalize to a wide range of health systems with varying levels of resources.

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable.

Abbreviations

United States Environmental Protection Agency

Green Guide for Health Care

Greenhouse gas

Green Public Procurement

Hospitals for a Healthy Environment

Houston Methodist (a Greater Houston area hospital system)

Intensive care unit

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    Seuring S, Müller M. From a literature review to a conceptual framework for sustainable supply chain management. J Clean Prod. 2008;16:1699-710. Article Google Scholar Yu A, Baharmand I. Environmental sustainability in Canadian critical care: a nationwide survey study on medical waste management. Healthc Q. 2021;23:39-45.

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    Printed version: PDF Publication Date: 05/09/2024 Agency: Environmental Protection Agency Dates: This final rule is effective on July 8, 2024. In accordance with 40 CFR part 23, this regulation shall be considered issued for purposes of judicial review at 1 p.m. Eastern time on May 23, 2024.Under section 509(b)(1) of the Clean Water Act (CWA), judicial review of this regulation can be had only ...