Due to all the environmental campaigns on different media, most people by now know that systematic waste management is the way to go if we don’t want to be buried under our own trash in the near future. Improper waste management is one of the main causes of environmental pollutions, which could impact our daily lives in a number of ways.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), improper waste disposal, especially that of medical waste, can be a source of many serious and at times fatal diseases (World Health Organization, 2018). However, the consequences don’t end there.
Usually when there is no better way of disposing solid waste, they are transferred to landfills or open dump sites. Although this practice is more common among developing nations, as it is relatively cheaper, it is not only exclusive to them (Aljaradin & Persson, 2012).
In landfills, which are essentially large dumping holes, the garbage is methodically buried to breakdown at very slow pace in order to lower the speed of its negative impact on the environment. However, even when this is done systematically, landfills still remain one of the major sources of environmental pollutions. Landfills can produce toxins/leaches that contaminate the soil and ground waters, making nearby farming either impossible or its products toxic for consumption. Moreover, they emit high levels of greenhouse gasses, such as CO2 and methane gas, which are known to be one of the main contributors to climate change (UNISAN, 2020). Not to mention that dumping sites are not aesthetically nor odorously pleasing.
We can therefore conclude that we need better ways to deal with our garbage, as the consequences could affect our health, a wide range of industries (hence our economy) and our environment as a whole.
Naturally as the population grows, so does the generated waste. Of course, lifestyle changes due to urbanization also have a huge impact on its rate (The World Bank, 2019).
So, what can we do?!
One of the promising ways of proper waste management is recycling. According to a study, Germany with a recycling rate of 56.1% was the leading recycling country followed by Austria, South Korea, Wales, and Switzerland. These countries manage this issue better than the others due to better governmental efforts to set up effective recycling programs / infrastructures, educating people and incentivizing them to do so (PG Paper Company Ltd, 2018).
Consumers who are environmentally conscious tend to mostly purchase products that are recyclable, but could recycling alone save us all from the garbage apocalypse?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Even if the packaging says the product is recyclable and everyone separates their trash, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will get recycled. While many countries have recycling programs in place, the rate at which they can recycle is not comparable to the amount of trash that is generated (CHO, 2020). Moreover, some materials such as plastics are more difficult to process and/or can be very costly to recycle (Ecobin, n.d.).
In the past, many of the higher-income countries including the US relied heavily on exporting their excess recyclable materials for processing to lower-income countries in East Asia but also those who have better capabilities in that regard like China. However, recently China, as the biggest importer of these countries, started banning the imports of such materials, especially hard-to-recycle plastics (Brooks, Wang, & Jambeck, 2018). Unfortunately, this means the countries that don’t have the necessary infrastructure to deal with these materials have no other choice but to transfer the discarded recyclable material to landfills and the cycle of polluting the planet continues.
But even if this wasn’t the case consumers tend to overlook the fact that even though recycling is significantly less polluting, it’s not completely pollution free (Department of Facilities by MIT, n.d.). Not to mention certain materials can only be recycled a limited number of times as they lose quality in each cycle (Howard, 2018).
In conclusion, while proper waste management including recycling is a good place to start, getting into the habit of reusing and most importantly reducing our consumption, i.e. our waste footprint, can guarantee a batter future for both ourselves and the future generations.
Literature and Online Sources:
Aljaradin, M., & Persson, K. M. (2012). Environmental impact of municipal solid waste landfills in semi-arid climates-case study–Jordan. The open waste management journal, 1. doi: 10.2174/1876400201205010028
Brooks, A. L., Wang, S., & Jambeck, J. R. (2018). The Chinese import ban and its impact on global plastic waste trade. Science advances, 1. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aat0131
CHO, R. (2020, March 13). Recycling in the U.S. Is Broken. How Do We Fix It? Retrieved from Earth Institute by Columbia University: https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2020/03/13/fix-recycling-america/#:~:text=What%20actually%20gets%20recycled%3F,tons%20were%20recycled%20or%20composted.&text=Sixty%2Dsix%20percent%20of%20discarded,percent%20of%20plastics%20were%20recycled.
Department of Facilities by MIT. (n.d.). Recycling Facts. Retrieved from Department of Facilities by MIT: https://web.mit.edu/facilities/environmental/recyc-facts.html
Ecobin. (n.d.). What is the most difficult material to recycle? Retrieved from Ecobin: https://www.ecobin.com.au/what-is-the-most-difficult-material-to-recycle/
Howard, B. C. (2018, October 31). 5 recycling myths busted. Retrieved from National Geographic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/5-recycling-myths-busted-plastic
PG Paper Company Ltd. (2018, August 24). Recycling rates across the globe. Retrieved from PG Paper Company Ltd: https://pgpaper.com/global-recycling-rates/#:~:text=According%20to%20a%20report%20compiled,with%20Switzerland%20recycling%20almost%2050%25.
The World Bank. (2019, September 23). Solid Waste Management. Retrieved from The World Bank: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/urbandevelopment/brief/solid-waste-management#:~:text=With%20rapid%20population%20growth%20and,impacted%20by%20unsustainably%20managed%20waste
UNISAN. (2020, August 26). What is a landfill? Why are landfills bad for the environment? Retrieved from UNISAN: https://www.unisanuk.com/what-is-a-landfill-why-are-landfills-bad-for-the-environment/#:~:text=When%20organic%20material%20such%20as,more%20potent%20than%20carbon%20dioxide.]
World Health Organization. (2018, February 8). Health-care waste. Retrieved from World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/health-care-waste