The Landfillsdilema Essay, Research Paper
Waste is a problem, a problem that is on the increase. Europe produces one hundred and thirty million tons of household garbage, 324 million tons of solid industrial waste and 30 million tons of hazardous waste every year . Disposing of this waste is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive, and many countries are considering burning municipal solid waste to produce energy as an alternative to traditional methods of disposal such as landfill. The most important reason for which landfills are usually disposal method of choice is that the waste is usually made out of various different products. The European Union defines municipal solid waste as domestic and commercial garbage. But the composition of municipal waste is changing as a result of a number of reasons. For example, government recycling targets and initiatives have encouraged householders and businesses to separate their waste before it is collected. At the moment, only 19% of waste are incinerated, around 60% of raw waste is still sent to landfill, as are the solid ash residues from most incinerators.
Plastics account for an increasing portion of products brought into the home: 39 percent in the 1970s, 54 percent in the ’80s, and 65 percent in the ’90s. In landfills, the amount of all packaging that is made up by plastic by weight was 13.4 percent in the 1970s, 14.2 percent in the ’80s and 14.9 percent in the ’90s . This shows how plastics play an important role in the waste dilemma.
A landfill is a dump for garbage, where deposited wastes are compacted, spread in thin layers, and covered daily with clay or synthetic foam. The more modern landfill are lined with multiple, impermeable layers of clay, sand, and plastic before any garbage is deposited. This liner prevents liquids, called leachates, from passing into the groundwater reserve. Leachates result from rainwater mixing with fluids in the garbage, making a highly toxic garbage juice containing inks, heavy metals, and other poisonous extracts. Some times, leachates are pumped up from collection points along the bottom of the landfill and either shipped to liquid waste disposal points or re-introduced into the upper layers of garbage, to resume the cycle. Unfortunately, most landfills have no such pumping system. Until the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency by Nixon in 1970, there were almost no regulations regarding the construction, operation, and closing of landfills. However, even with this Federal environmental organization it is very difficult to make landfills as safe as possible for the environment. Landfills are still very costly to the environment and to our health.
Landfills are the most common solution for the disposal of industrial and consumer waste. The Fresh Kills Landfill, located on Staten Island, is the largest landfill in the world. It has an elevation of 155 feet, an estimated mass of 100 million tons, and a volume of 2.9 billion cubic feet. In total surface, it is equal to 16,000 baseball diamonds . One could believe that such immense waste mass is unique, unfortunately it is not other comparable giant landfills exist around the planet such as San Francisco and in Mexico City.
Many are located in close proximity to underground water reserves or other groundwater features, or near geologically unstable sites. Many older landfills are leaching toxins into our water supply at this very moment and we have no way to stop this unacceptable pollution. For example, according to Miller G Tyler, the Fresh Kills landfill leaks an estimated one million gallons of toxic ooze into the surrounding water table every day. Furthermore landfills are not a solution, as the waste that is stored can not biodegrade. The daily compacting and covering of the garbage deposits effectively squeezes the available oxygen out of the material. Whatever aerobic bacteria are present in the garbage are soon killed and decomposition stops. Anaerobic bacteria are the only bacteria that could continue to live under these conditions. However they are not very present in our planet. The few that manage to enter and survive in the garbage deposits are slow acting and perform little in the breaking down the waste. In other words, rather than the giant compost heap most people imagine, a landfill is actually a huge deposit center that does not disappear as time past. Another reason that landfills are not a good solution for the treatment of our waste is that even if oxygen existed in the landfill there would still be no sun penetrating down to the waste. Sun is a crucial factor for the activity of bacteria. Plastics are a very stable material that does not biodegrade. Some scientists usually paid by the plastic industry are trying to make us believe the future lies on biodegradable plastics. However this still will not be enough as even the most biodegradable plastic requires intense sunlight to decompose, and sunlight is denied in a landfill.
Furthermore, what little decomposition does occur in landfills generates vast amounts of methane gas, one of the significant greenhouse effect. Few landfills have processes to reclaim the methane. Once this methane is collected it is burned. No combustion is perfect or complete thus there are some other gases like Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide resulting from this combustion. Carbon dioxide is also a gas responsible for the greenhouse effect. If dumping garbage in land or at sea are unacceptable, what are the alternatives?
Some Large metropolitan agencies have even taken to shipping garbage to third world countries. Giving the garbage along with large amounts of money has been the option taken by some communities. This is often the case with very hazardous waste like the medical waste that can’t be burned. This, of course, only transfers the problem from one population to the other. Stories of wandering garbage barges and orphaned garbage trains have made headlines in American newspapers.
The second most common solution is incineration. However, the incineration of materials also releases dangerous toxic gases and ashes. Plastics have very good fuel energy and can create a useful source of energy that is in some cases transformed into electricity. However, the burning of plastics also releases very dangerous toxins called dioxins. Dioxins are one of the most potent toxins known to man. Most of the dioxins come from the incineration of medical waste. They are known to be strong carcinogens and to have a multitude of negative effects on the human body.
There are no good solutions, only bad ones. As long as this is the case we will have to manage with the secondary effects of our consumption. In the short run recycling can really help but more economic incentives have to be placed towards recycling in order for it to become significant. Also, all of us should try to avoid unnecessary packaging and other sources of waste. If not for our generation we should do it for our children and our children’s