By: Kay Kim
Any consumer will throw something into the garbage, but how many know what happens to their discarded items and where it goes? There are generally 3 different bins to throw something out:
Then, they go through different waste facilities; according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the total generation of municipal solid waste in 2018 was 292.4 million tons, which means each person would produce an average of 4.9 pounds of garbage a day just in the U.S. Shelby Bell states that 32.5% of waste was recycled or composted, 12.5% was incinerated (for energy generation), and 55% of it was thrown into our landfills (“Landfills: We’re running out of space”). Due to the growing population, more and more people consume and waste; thus, in most countries, waste production and landfills have been increasing. From 2002 to 2012, Canada’s residential waste rose by 27% (14.3 million tonnes).
Why are landfills bad?
Landfills cause several negative impacts on our environment, people and economy. The toxic chemicals that landfills carry are dangerous to our health. Electronic waste, for example, contains mercury, arsenic, cadmium, acids, and lead which are all harmful toxins. Once these toxins are exposed to the environment, organisms, including humans, that depend on water and plants will be impacted. Approximately 35-55% of methane gas is in our landfills (which can be released for up to 50 years) and makes up 17.7% of the total methane emissions in the U.S. Methane causes 72 times more warming than one ton of CO2 (another gas emitted from landfills). The 30-44% of Carbon dioxide will be released to thicken the greenhouse gas layer. To accommodate for the rise in waste production also means more money will be invested to build these landfill sites.
COVID-19 and Waste
Furthermore, the pandemic has its share in negatively affecting the environment. COVID-19 increased the amount of medical waste, masks, gloves, and plastics used globally. In China, about 40-50 tonnes of medical waste has been thrown away each day before the outbreak; however, according to the statistics from March 1, 2020, the statistic has risen to 247 tonnes a day—a huge jump in waste. Many other countries are facing similar situations. As a result, when waste containing the virus is not managed properly, it can lead to secondary contamination, pollution and hazardous chemical runoff into the environment.
So, what can you do about this pressing issue? How can we reduce the continuous increment in waste production?
If we continue to ignore and waste irresponsibly, it will lead to an unsustainable future and we will be confronted with the negative consequences. Taking action for our communities and being more aware of how our behaviour impacts the environment will be beneficial for finding more sustainable ways to live. If we take from the environment and give back landfills, hazardous chemicals, plastics, greenhouse gases and pollution, there will be not much left for us to take anymore.
Environmental and Energy Study Institute
United States Environmental Protection Agency
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
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