The answer to the question ‘ what do we do about waste? ‘ infers that there are problems. There is, in fact, no where on this planet where waste materials are NOT being released into the environment which remains still to this day a major problem. The most important areas are those classified as: municipal solid waste;. toxic waste ( its’ management and cleanup ) ; and nuclear waste. Some of all the waste mankind produces is regularly and effectively handled such as certain types of water and air pollution found in the developed countries. Also there are wastes which are recycled such as organic manures in agriculture. However most wastes produced today are simply dumped, as the above lead picture shows, creating a serious and continuous threat to our health and environment.
The consumer public is buying more and using less thus producing larger amounts of waste. Municipal waste is compounded by industrial dumping from factories, tailings from mines, construction and demolition waste, sewage refuse after treatments and junked machinery. All of this garbage must be consistently disposed of without disturbing the M.S.W. ( the municipal streamed waste ) management program already in place. Recycling is one method being used and it is helping, especially all the efforts in composting. Other methods being used are landfills and incineration.
Much is also being done to reduce amounts used in the manufacturing and packaging of consumer products as well as in their delivery from source to outlet. For example, changing a design or removing it completely from a product allows more to be shipped in selected containers thereby reducing the amounts of corrugated cardboard needed and this in turn reduces the total costs involved all down the line. Various attempts at product longevity are also having successful outcomes.
In 2007, San Francisco was the first U.S. City to put a limit on the number of plastic bags to be used in grocery and drug stores. Soon after in 2009, a N.Y. state law required certain retail and grocery stores to accept plastic bags for recycling. That same year 82 million tonnes of waste were recovered by recycling and composting. As early as 2005 there were 500 material recovery facilities. Recycling reduced energy and raw material costs, the need for more landfills and the amount of carbon dioxide emissions as well as a number of other GHG’s being released into the environment. It also made for an effective solution to the problems created by piles of neglected yard trimmings and aluminum cans.
It is still common for cities to send waste to rural landfills and for these landfills to cause controversy for the people living close by while bringing revenue into the area and even though incinerators are a common and popular choice for dealing with the volume and weight of garbage an average city population generates, they continue to pose an increasingly evident and serious problem for the environment by releasing dangerous odors, particulate matter and toxic gases into the atmosphere. Yes incinerators are slowly being phased out but not fast enough. They have been factored into solutions for waste since 1940 – it is now 2019.
When evaluating an area for suitability as a site for hazardous waste, certain criteria, such as the existing levels of soil and water contamination, the flow of toxins and the number of people possibly affected by toxins as well as the results obtained from strict analysis of the surrounding infrastructure are all carefully studied by experts before any decisions are finalized and acted upon. Hundreds of hazardous wastes have been identified by such agencies as the E.P.A. . Included in these lists are materials such as the slags produced from primary metals, sludges from specific industrial processes and chemicals like PCB’s. Once a site is declared a priority either an emergency action is initiated immediately or a site mediation plan is developed for quick implementation. When high levels of dioxin were found in the town of Times Beach, Missouri, the town was bought out, evacuated and later demolished. Although it presented a technical and financial nightmare it was accomplished quickly and successfully.
Last but by no means least is the problem of nuclear waste. Nuclear power plants; the manufacturing of medical equipment; the production of nuclear weapons; residues from uranium mining and research into alternatives for X-rays such as various sources of industrial radioactivity ,all create for disposal two types of waste – low level and high level. The first kind categorized as low level nuclear waste is slightly radioactive; the second kind categorized as high level nuclear waste is mainly spent fuel from nuclear reactors or wastes from the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Because of the length of time nuclear waste remains radioactive ( could be for thousands of years ) the problems inherent in its’ disposal are many with many long lasting consequences for humankind. Satisfying solutions have yet to be found. Often much of it remains in what are known as “temporary” sites, the sites sometimes being where the waste was originally generated. Famous in the history of nuclear waste disposal is the Saga of Yucca Mountain, in the state of Nevada. In 2002 it was approved by both the President in Office at the time and Congress as the nation’s first long-term geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste. It was slated to accept waste in 2025 and close 100 years later. The cost only $96 billion. Fierce opposition arose and in 2011, with a tenth of the monies gone, the Obama administration proposed it be removed from the Yucca Mountain site. The delimma continues. The decisions to replace fossil fuel generation remain. The true costs of nuclear energy are yet debated.
We are a wasteful generation. We are trying not to be. This is not just our home but the home of countless other living creatures. Will we succeed in keeping it safe and clean? The price of failure may start with black tap water, toilets that no longer flush,rats everywhere and thousands dead from cholera every day. The reader no doubt will add more to the list. I, for one, venture to say, it is a price far too high to pay.