Waste

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Introduction

Waste is a “trashy idea”, and yet, it is one with great potential. [1] This is because all forms of life produce waste and therefore, the act of turning waste into energy may prove to be a key mitigation strategy in the fight against global warming. This is crucial because in 2006 alone, the United States produced 251 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and although some of this waste is unavoidable, much of it can be reused or recycled. This, however, is not occurring in the United States where 55% of the MSW in 2006 was disposed of in landfills, and consequently, major problems are arising at these sites. These problems include the build-up of greenhouse gasses, such as methane; and yet, waste reduction, as put by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has the potential to decrease the greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to global warming. Landfills, therefore, are creating problems on a global scale, and yet through waste reduction and waste management, world nations may finally begin to see a viable solution to global warming.

The Problems with Landfills

With a rise in the global population and a prediction for it to only increase further, consumption and therefore waste is inevitable. Waste is a part of life; however, the traditional landfills, which have been used as sites to store such waste, have also become sites that store greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. This is occurring as “landfill space becomes increasingly scarce”, and consequently, the already preexisting sites are becoming overused. [2]In addition, there is also a lack of decomposition and ventilation of waste material, which is resulting in inefficient landfills in all parts of the world. These problems with landfills therefore include “groundwater contamination from leakages, high operative and transport costs, and greenhouse gas emissions”; problems which all coincide with another "huge" problem, which is the recent shift to “mega-fills” that in some cases have the disposal capacity of 1,000 football fields. [3]Landfills are clearly not being used as sites that store only non-recyclables, and yet, the greatest problems arise when hazardous waste is either abandoned or disposed of improperly. It can pose great threats to human health, which is what occurred at one of the most famous abandoned waste sites – Love Canal. In Love Canal, Hooker Chemical Company disposed of 20 tons of hazardous waste in a former canal, and subsequently, residents and school children had to pay the price when contamination of this waste led to health problems. Therefore, there needs to be more stringent standards applied to waste disposal; in addition to a change in the human perception of waste, because only then will these hazardous landfill sites be seen as a problem that is not just going to go away.

Waste Reduction and Waste Management

With landfills proving to be such an imminent threat in the fight against global warming, solutions to this problem can be seen in a twofold answer: waste reduction and waste management. These are both key mitigation strategies; however, they differ because whereas waste management is “the process by which products and by-products [...] are collected, stored, transported, treated, disposed of, recycled or reused”, [4] waste reduction is based on the idea of minimizing waste “at its source [in order] to minimize the quantity required to be treated and disposed of”. [5]These strategies consequently have the potential to turn a wasteful society into an environmentally conscious one, and yet, there are sociocultural ties to waste that must be considered. Such ties include cultural habits and cultural norms associated with waste; and yet, such a change - in which societies adopt waste reduction and waste management strategies - is crucial to combating global warming. This is because such a switch would turn the notion of recycling and reusing materials into an attractive alternative, which is a switch that could significantly benefit the planet. Recycling, therefore, can be seen as “one of the environmental success stories of the late 20th century”, in which in 2003 alone, recycling “diverted 72 million tons of material away form landfills.” [6]This is just one incentive to recycling, and it subsequently coincides with another incentive, which is that recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions. As stated by the EPA, “if just one household generated 5 percent less waste – including newspapers, aluminum, steel cans, and plastic containers – and then recycled what remained, it could reduce 367 pounds of carbon equivalent”. [7] Individuals have the opportunity to significantly reduce the greenhouse gases that are accumulating in landfills, and in the last decades, there is also “growing consensus [… among government, international agencies, and companies that now see that] there is money to be made in garbage”. [8]This is a growing worldview that has led to the emergence of “green” projects, and as a result, efforts are being made to reduce the trash generated, and turn existing garbage into useful byproducts. These are byproducts that include the development of cellulose-based energy, which would create major economic benefits at a time in which everyone is worried about rising gas prices. Cellulose-based ethanol, thus, is based on the technical idea of combining “household garbage and other urban trash with after-harvested leftovers from fields, orchards, and vineyards to create ethanol and other forms of bio-energy.”[9] It is both friendly to the environment and the economy, and as put by Bill Ortis, this “kind of ‘green’ biorefinery that we’re developing would reduce the volume of existing landfills, decrease the need for new ones, and minimize greenhouse gas production”. [10] It is effective technology and yet, it is not the only technical alternative to managing waste, and therefore, coincides with the idea of capturing the methane that is “seeping out of landfills [and using it for] energy production”. [11] This has been done in LaGrange, Georgia in which the company Interface Flooring System used landfill gas to produce heat for their facilities, and consequently, there is great potential yet to be seen in the technical realm of waste. The state of Vermont has introduced “Cow-power”, which converts cow manure into electricity though the use of a anaerobic digester and a generator; and thus, these are all waste managing strategies that would also help reduce the large amounts of waste that is being transported to landfills. So “why not burn it for inexpensive energy”? [12]The alternative is to just let the waste accumulate in these landfill sites, and subsequently, this “large-scale garbage ‘recycling’ may turn out to be a win-win situation for society” because incentives to recycle are not just environmental but economic as well. [13] According to the article “Recycling: looking beyond the bottom line”, “waste disposal costs will decline where recycling programs are introduced”, [14] which is beneficial because “producing materials from recycled resources is less energy intensive than from virgin resources.” [15]In addition, the cost of improper waste disposal can also have tremendous implications on society, especially when individuals loose more than just money, and instead it becomes a loss of human life.

On a Global Scale

Nevertheless, in order for waste reduction and waste management to have its most significant impact, such changes will have to be implemented on the global level. This is crucial because these problems with landfills are seen across the planet, and therefore, the United States cannot be the only case study. Rather, as stated in the article “Trash Talk”, “households in the United Kingdom recycle only 12 percent of their waste”; and consequently, the United Kingdom is debating a bill that would “stipulate how much biodegradable municipal waste is eligible for disposal and penalize landfills that exceed their allowance”. [16] The bill would subsequently create ‘stabilized’ landfills; a term used to classify landfills, which have been screened and removed of “materials that should not be landfilled like recyclables, compostables, household special wastes, electronics ect.”[17]This as a result, would greatly reduce the amount of waste being transported to landfill sites, and will also help alleviate the gas build up that has been proven to be a direct contributor to global warming. In addition, ‘stabilized’ landfills also have the potential to alter our perception on what we deem as waste; a prime example of this occurring in the city of Indiatuba, which is located in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The city of Indiatuba has already taken the initiative to create ‘stabilized’ landfills, because they are trying to change the statistic that stated that “about 90% of [their] waste was found to be potentially recyclable and only 10% requiring landfills.”[18]This is in striking contrast to Japan, which has only about 25 to 30 percent of its waste going to landfills; and yet, Japan’s recycling policies cannot be applied to the city of Indaiatuba because of geographical differences. Rather, each country needs to create their own policies, because there is no single, correct one. Instead, the policies need to simply focus on the concepts of waste reduction and waste management, which are tasks that all countries, developed or developing, can undertake to some extent. Furthermore, there is something also to be said about the progress made in the United States, which has decreased the number of landfills from 8,000 in 1988 to 1,767 landfills in 2002. It is indeed possible to “go green in a red state”, and yet, politics still does have an impact on waste management in the U.S. [19]This is seen in the controversial project of Yucca Mountain, which would be a site that would store nuclear waste; and consequently, it has received opposition from local residents. Politicians have also had their own suggestions on the matter, and yet, with no consensus being met, the problems surrounding Yucca Mountain remain unsolved.

Conclusion

At a pivotal time in history in which global warming has become the defining problem of our era, garbage may in fact be a key mitigation strategy. It can create solutions; and yet, when waste is overlooked, it looses the potential to be a solution and instead turns into the problem. This is a problem that is seen in landfill sites; and therefore, countries need to embrace the ideas of waste management and waste reduction. These are solutions to an international problem; and thus, perhaps waste is not so “trashy” after all.

Notes

  1. Wood, Marcia. "From garbage to gas: converting city refuse and farm leftovers to clean energy.(vineyards to use bioenergy)." Agricultural Research 56.9 (Oct 2008): 13(1). Academic OneFile. Gale. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT. 29 Oct. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=AONE>.
  2. Judge, Rebecca, and Anthony Becker. "Motivating recycling: a marginal cost analysis." Contemporary Policy Issues 11.n3 (July 1993): 58(11). Academic OneFile. Gale. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT. 3 Nov. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=AONE>.
  3. Mitchell, Ross E. "Landfills." Encyclopedia of Environment and Society. 2007. SAGE Publications. 3 Nov. 2008. <http://www.sage-ereference.com/environment/Article_n614.html>.
  4. "Waste Management." Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Commerce Queensland. 1 Nov. 2008 <http://www.commerceqld.com.au/docs/eco_wastemgmt.pdf>
  5. "Waste Reduction." BusinessDictionary.com. WebFinance, Inc. 1 Nov. 2008 <http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/waste-reduction.html>.
  6. Grover, Velma I. "Recycling." Encyclopedia of Environment and Society. 2007. SAGE Publications. 3 Nov. 2008. <http://www.sage-ereference.com/environment/Article_n901.html>.
  7. "Climate Change and Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)." Wastes. 30 Sept. 2008. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 27 Oct. 2008 <http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/tools/payt/tools/factfin.html>.
  8. Gotschall, Mary G. "Making big money from garbage: how companies are forming international alliances to recycle trash for profit." Columbia Journal of World Business 31.n3 (Fall 1996): 100(8). Academic OneFile. Gale. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT. 29 Oct. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=AONE>.
  9. Wood, Marcia. "From garbage to gas: converting city refuse and farm leftovers to clean energy.(vineyards to use bioenergy." Agricultural Research 56.9 (Oct 2008): 13(1). Academic OneFile. Gale. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT. 29 Oct. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=AONE>.
  10. Wood, Marcia. "From garbage to gas: converting city refuse and farm leftovers to clean energy.(vineyards to use bioenergy)." Agricultural Research 56.9 (Oct 2008): 13(1). Academic OneFile. Gale. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT. 29 Oct. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=AONE>.
  11. Mann, Michael E., and Lee R. Kump. Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming. 1st ed. New York, NY: Daniel Kaveney, 2008. 176 – 177.
  12. Mann, Michael E., and Lee R. Kump. Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming. 1st ed. New York, NY: Daniel Kaveney, 2008. 176 – 177.
  13. Mann, Michael E., and Lee R. Kump. Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming. 1st ed. New York, NY: Daniel Kaveney, 2008. 176 – 177.
  14. Ackerman, Frank. "Recycling: looking beyond the bottom line." BioCycle 38.n5 (May 1997): 67(4). Academic OneFile. Gale. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT. 3 Nov. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=AONE>.
  15. Björklund, Anna, and Göran Finnveden. "Recycling revisited—life cycle comparisons of global warming impact and total energy use of waste management strategies." Resources, Conservation and Recycling 44 (2005): 309-17. Lexis Nexus. ScienceDirect. Middlebury College, Middlebury. 1 Nov. 2008.
  16. "Trash talk. (Spectrum)." Environment 45.5 (June 2003): 8(1). Academic OneFile. Gale. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT. 29 Oct. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=AONE>.
  17. "Climate Change and Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)." Wastes. 30 Sept. 2008. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 27 Oct. 2008 <http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/tools/payt/tools/factfin.htm>.
  18. Donnini Mancini, Sandro, Alex Rodrigues Nogueira, Dennis Akira Kagohara, Jonas Age Saide Schwartzman, and Tania de Mattos. "Recycling potential of urban solid waste destined for sanitary landfills: the case of Indaiatuba, SP, Brazil.(Case study)." Waste Management and Research 25.6 (Dec 2007): 517(7). Academic OneFile. Gale. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT. 29 Oct. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=AONE>.
  19. McGarry, Lisa, and Margaret Olson. "Going green in a red state." Utah Bar Journal 21.3 (May-June 2008): 24(2). Academic OneFile. Gale. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT. 3 Nov. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=AONE>.