Believing the 2011 survey results of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the American nationals generate more than 240 million tons of waste every year. Often referred to as Municipal Solid Waste, this waste originates from households, schools, hospitals, and business establishments. This trash material often finds its place in the wasteland, where it is either recycled, trapped in a landfill, or incinerated.
Each of these different trash treatment methods has its own plus points and shortcomings. Understanding the different facets of every approach will definitely help you in making better, cost-effective waste management decisions that are beneficial for the community and the environment.
Recycling necessarily means managing the different elements present in the solid waste stream. Even if the amount of garbage produced by a single person has dramatically increased in the last 30 years, the rate of recycling has also gone up to match the increasing needs of garbage disposal.
Until 2009, around 34% of the solid waste was recycled, which is an admirable rise compared to the 10% of waste being recycled during 1980s. In 2009, the Americans were able to recover over 61 million tons of solid waste through the process of recycling. Composting, which is nature’s way of reprocessing the human waste, kept nearly 21 million tons of waste from being treated through landfills or incinerators.
The total amount of waste material composted and recycled managed to keep about 178 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide away from the atmosphere, which is similar to taking more than 33 million vehicles off the roads for a period of one year. On the whole, recycling helps in conserving natural resources, reduces the amount of emissions from goods manufactured by using the recycled materials, saves energy, generates revenue, and benefits the US manufacturing sector on the whole.
By the year 1980, about 89% of the municipal solid waste was treated through landfills. Considering the figures of 2009, the amount of waste ending up in landfills managed to reduce to about 54%. The modern day landfills are regulated by the federal departments and are engineered accordingly to minimize their overall impact on the environment.
Landfills are generally lined with 2-3 feet of compact clay soil, which is then covered with a flexible membrane. Liquids that may leak out from the landfill materials are collected by the leachate collection and a removal system is installed at the top of the flexible membrane. Scientists conduct regular tests on the nearby groundwater for ensuring that the installed systems are working fine and the groundwater is not contaminated.
Apart from the soil and groundwater quality, the quality of air is also a major concern. Landfills contribute to the greenhouse effect because of the production of gases like methane, which is 20 times more dangerous than carbon-di-oxide, if trapped in the atmosphere. Thus, the EPA’s newer landfill techniques capture the methane, harness its power and use it for fueling power plants, factories, homes, and automobiles.
Also known as combustion, the technique of incineration revolves around controlled burning of the waste. It helps in reducing the volume of waste and saves a great amount of space in the landfills. Burning the municipal solid waste releases some harmful gases that might affect the quality of air. However, with the use of filters and scrubbers, their impact can be reduced to a great extent.
Scrubbers use liquid for lessening the acidic content of the gases, while the filters prevent the burning ash from entering the atmosphere. Combustion necessarily reduces the toxicity of the waste materials as high temperature often breaks down the dangerous chemical compounds. If properly equipped, an incinerator is also capable of converting water into steam, which, in turn, can be used to generate power.
Since each of the aforementioned waste treatment methods have their own upsides and downsides, the final choice solely rests with you. You need to weigh the positives and negatives, and select a fine method for contributing your share towards the Go Green movement.