8.3 Solid domestic waste

Significant ideas:

  • Solid domestic waste (SDW) is increasing as a result of growing human populations and consumption.
  • Both the production and management of SDW can have significant influence on sustainability.

Knowledge and understanding:

  1. There are different types of SDW, the volume and composition of which changes over time.
  2. The abundance and prevalence of non-biodegradable pollution (such as plastic, batteries or e-waste) in particular has become a major environmental issue.
  3. Waste disposal options include landfills, incineration, recycling and composting.
  4. There are a variety of strategies that can be used to manage SDW (refer to figure 3) influenced by cultural, economic, technological and political barriers. These strategies include:
    • altering human activity – for example, through a reduction of consumption and composting of food waste.
    • controlling the release of pollutant – governments create legislation to encourage recycling and reuse initiatives and impose taxes for SDW collection and on disposable items
    • reclaiming landfills, using SDW for waste-to-energy programmes, implementing initiatives to remove plastics from the Great Pacific garbage patch (cleanup and restoration).

Applications and skills:

  • Evaluate SDW disposal options.
  • Compare and contrast pollution management strategies for SDW.
  • Evaluate, with reference to figure 3, pollution management strategies for SDW by considering recycling, incineration, composting and landfills.


  • Pollution can be transborder; the pollution from one country may affect another.
  • Differences in development level of countries can influence the amount and type of SDW they generate.

Theory of knowledge:

  • The circular economy can be seen as a paradigm shift—does knowledge develop through paradigm shifts in all areas of knowledge?


  • Sustainability (1.4)
  • Humans and pollution (1.5)
  • Flows of energy and matter (2.3)
  • Water pollution (4.4)
  • Soil degradation and conservation (5.3)
  • Acid deposition (6.4)