Waste management is a growing challenge. A problem that only becomes more daunting as population grows and becomes more affluent. The amount of waste increases globally and with the expected growth of the world’s population to 9 billion by 2050, the threat posed by society to the environment is immense.
When waste was only organic it was easy to manage. Plastics, metals, and toxics are present in all consumables and have resulted in a much more sophisticated management of the waste. Waste has an impact on the environment as a whole, and creates risk for Humanity.
The nature and the quality of waste have changed significantly in recent years, especially in developing countries. By going from organic waste to more and more chemical- plastic garbage, it has become a major issue in the groundwater pollution. Treating water and managing landfills represent such a cost for governments that they are struggling to finance any long-term projects that address the problem in a strategic and sustainable manner.
Not acting delays the problem and worsens it exponentially. Depending on governments is difficult because the budget for such operations is difficult to justify when domestic revenues are limited and must be allocated to other vital priorities. Finding alternative, independent , private and sustainable solutions, supported by the political will is an approach with great potential.
The facts on waste and their effects on Humans and Environment:
– Paper is fairly easy to recycle depending on the type. However paper in landfills can lead to problems. Ink can contain volatile organic compounds, non-renewable oils, and worst of all, heavy metals. On average it is estimated that paper decomposes in between 2 and 4 weeks.
– Chemicals added to plastics can be absorbed by the human body. Some of these compounds have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects. Plastic buried deep in landfills can leach harmful chemicals that spread into groundwater (leachates). Plastic decomposition rates can range from 80 to hundreds of years.
– Glass can be virtually endlessly recycled. However glass is also made of silica and is estimated to take over a million years to be completely decomposed. The most environmentally harmful part about glass is its energy intensive production process
– Non-ferrous metals are very dangerous; these can consist of the heavy metals that are poisonous to humans. Aluminum cans have a decomposition rate of around 80 to 100 years. Steel cans may take more than 50 years to decompose.
– Construction waste is often reused. Crushable inert such as brick or concrete are easily reused in foundations etc. Gypsum however is easily recyclable but when put in a landfill will create a toxic hydrogen sulfide.
– E-waste are usually not easily separable into individual components. E-waste in landfills is very problematic. Electronics are filled with many different varieties of chemicals, heavy metals, and petroleum based plastics. All of these have differing decomposition rates and all of which will produce harmful leachates over time.
– Diseases resulting from waste: growth retardation (heavy metals), hematological abnormalities, elevated levels of neutrophils and platelets, thrombosis, typhoid fever, dysentery, lysis, anemia, cholera, hepatitis, others…
Yet 33 % of the global nitrogen is used to produce meat for consumption by persons of the EU, which represents 7% of the world population. Each year , the average consumer in Europe and the USA throws between 95 and 115 kilos of food ; the amount of food thrown in industrialized countries each year (222 million tons) nearly matches the amount of food produced throughout sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons ).