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As long as the human race has existed, there has always been solid waste that man has produced and subsequently had to discard. However, the amount of solid waste produced by human beings has significantly risen in the course of the years.
This might be attributed to the fact that over the course of the last century, most nations in the world experienced industrial growth at a previously unprecedented scale. This expansion in industries invariable led to rapid economic growth of many nations and considerable rising in the standards of livings of many people and thus the increase amount of waste.
Dealing with solid waste is fundamental to the existence of any civilization and how solid waste is managed determines the kind of effect that it has on the environment. This paper will discuss solid waste with particular reference to plastics and how the waste affects the environment. Solutions that have been suggested and can be used to reduce the negative effects will also be analyzed.
Solid Waste Management
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (2010) describes solid waste as “any garbage, refuse, sludge and other discarded materials.” This wastes is made up of matter such as scrap metal, domestic refuse, vehicle discards, used car oil and construction debris to name but a few.
It has been suggested that globalization, a process characterized by major integration of economies and cultures, has been chief in the exponential growth in solid wastes experienced in the past few decades. If unmanaged, solid waste can have an adverse effect on people since it may lead to the spread of diseases therefore decreasing the quality of life. As such, waste management policies have been proposed and implemented by various authorities.
The objective of solid waste management is to reduce the amount of solid waste disposed on land and lead to the recovery of material from solid waste through various recycling efforts. Effective solid management system is the key to ensuring human health and safety and as such, it is a prerequisite for the safeguarding of public health and the prevention of spread of diseases. In addition to this, effective solid management leads to the sustainability of natural resources as well as mitigates harm on the environment.
While there are multiple other forms of solid waste, plastic waste are an especially formidable class of solid wastes. One of the reasons for this is the frequency with which plastic is used in modern day society leading to great waste.
The Central Pollution control Board (2007) assert that an estimated 10 thousand tones of plastic waste is generated per day making plastic waste a significant portion of the total municipal solid waste. The prevalence in the use of plastic is mostly as a result of the change in life style and socio-economic conditions leading to increased usage of plastic by the population.
One of the factors that set plastics apart from many other solid waste substances is the fact that plastics contain various toxic constituents (Kreith & Tchobanoglous, 2002).
The presence of toxins results in most waste management efforts having to isolate plastics from the rest of the waste, a practice that requires significantly more capital to be invested in the waste management process than would be required with other household waste material. However, as a result of the presence of toxins and the great amount of plastic waste produced in the world each day much effort has over the years been expended to come up with programs for recycling plastics.
Environmental Impact of Solid Waste
The most obvious negative impact of solid waste on the environment is that it leads to the degradation of the natural beauty. This is especially true concerning plastic litter in parks and beaches. Improper disposal of plastic also leads to negative effects on the environment.
To illustrate the effects of plastic waste to marine life, Green Peace reports that plastic debris are the “most common types of marine debris and cause the most problems for marine animals and birds” (Allsopp et al., 2006). Considering the fact that over 267 marine species have been reported to have suffered entanglement or even death from this waste, plastic presents a real risk to the environment.
During the earlier years of the industrial revolution, mass incineration of solid waste was the preferred means of dealing with the waste. In those years, there were limited efforts at controlling the amount of emissions that the waste incinerators produced mostly as a result of ignorance by people on the environmental impact that uncontrolled waste incineration led to (Voelker, 1997).
As a result of the great technological advancements and intensive research into the factors affecting the environment, it has been discovered that solid waste and some solid waste management systems are detrimental to the environment.
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For example, getting rid of plastic waste by incineration possess as a challenge as the combustion of the chlorinated polymers leads to the formation of dioxins in incinerators (Kreith & Tchobanoglous, 2002). Plastics also contain toxin additives which end up being released into the atmosphere leading to environmental degradation. These waste management efforts therefore negatively impacted the environment.
One of the most traditional solid waste disposal methods is the use of open land dumps. While this method is fairly cost effective and therefore appealing especially for developing nations which cannot afford to devote a lot of money for solid waste disposal efforts, this method has some adverse impacts on the environment.
Arguably the most adverse effect to the environment from open dumps comes about when solid waste is disposed off in low lying areas. This leads to “ground water contamination by the leachate generated by the waste dump” (Niir Board of Consultants & Engineers, 2007). In addition to this, surface water may be contaminated by the run-off from the waste dump especially in the rainy seasons. Disposal on land also leads to pollution of air by the bad odor that emanates from the decaying waste.
Solutions to Waste Problems
To deal with the negative effects that the increasing solid waste problem creates to the environment, there has been a need to come up with environmentally sound solid waste management practices. Modern day waste management involves the use of high technology burners that have been well analyzed for environmental impact. These facilities are equipped with pollution control technologies to ensure that emissions and toxins are kept at a significantly low level thus mitigating negative environmental effects.
One of the more ambitious efforts at recycling plastic is the conversion of plastics waste into liquid fuel. Markchek (2001) describes recycling as the best risk management tool that “allows reducing and even eliminating any risk that may be eventually generated by the disposal of products.” Recycling is particularly significant with the ensuring of renewability of resources and when dealing with material that does not degrade when disposed into our natural environment.
Plastic recycling makes use of a highly sophisticated process that is undertaken in closed reactor environment therefore ensuring that no harmful emissions are released into the environment (Central Pollution control Board, 2007). The waste plastics are super heated to convert them into liquid-vapor state and this product is them used to run electricity generators.
Furthermore, owing to the recognition of the damage that plastic waste poses, many regulations have been proposed by governments all over the world. Some of these regulations include the restrictions on the grade of plastic bags that can be manufactured as well as vendor restrictions on the usage of plastic bags.
While recycling efforts have been encouraged, when dealing with plastic, the recycled plastics use has been restricted and cannot be used in food containers due to uncertainties about contaminants gotten from the recycling process. (Kreith, & Tchobanoglous, 2002).
This paper set out to review the problem of solid waste with particular emphasis on the plastic problem. From the facts illustrated in this paper, it is evident that a failure to engage in environmental friendly means of dealing with plastic waste may be detrimental to our health and the environment.
While solid waste management is evidently more sophisticated and efficient today that it was some few decades ago, there is still a lot that can be done to ensure that solid waste is managed in the most effective and environmental friendly manner so as to secure a sustainable and safer future for humanity.
Allsopp, M. et al. Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans. Greenpeace International, 2006.
Central Pollution control Board. (2007). Plastic Waste Management. Web.
Kreith, F. & Tchobanoglous, G. (2002). Handbook of Solid Waste Management. NY: McGraw-Hill Professional.
Niir Board of Consultants & Engineers (2007). Medical, Municipal and Plastic Waste Management Handbook. National Institute Of Industrial Re.
Markchek, J. K. (2000). The Importance of Recycling to the Environmental Profile of Metal Products. The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society. Web.
Voelker, B. M. (1997). Waste-to-Energy: Solutions for Solid Waste Problems for the 21st Century. Web.