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2023 Author: Seth Attwood | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-24 11:30
Nobody knows exactly how much waste we generate. However, the population is constantly growing and more waste is being released into the environment than ever before, and few have any idea what happens to the garbage in a landfill, how it affects air, water, soil and people. Today we will talk about one of the most pressing environmental problems of mankind.
A growing threat
A hundred years ago, it was possible to bury garbage, but now it is impossible, and people simply dump it into giant heaps. For example, more than 80 tons of garbage from the outskirts of Lebanese Beirut is transported daily to where there was once a sandy beach. The height of the rubble here reaches more than 40 meters. Waste decomposes, releasing methane and other chemicals that poison the soil and the air breathed by 200 thousand residents of the city. Local fishermen suffer from decomposition products entering the sea. This is not a local problem, since the giant landfill affects the ecological situation off the coast of Spain, Cyprus, Syria and Turkey, located in the vicinity of Lebanon. All these countries complain that their beaches are constantly flooded with rubbish.
Local waste collectors come to the giant mountain, trying to find waste that can be sold for recycling. But their efforts are ineffective against the background of the total volume of rubble. More serious attempts were made to clear the mountain. For example, an Arabian prince donated $ 5 million to fight the trash, but nothing came of it. But 35 years ago there was a wasteland here, until one day people arrived who dug a hole and piled barrels of toxic substances into it. This was the seed for the future mountain of waste, which was growing very quickly.
Garbage is everywhere, and the amount is constantly increasing. Landfills are growing rapidly around the world. With over 400 waste disposal sites in Beijing, there is no longer any place for garbage. Over the past decade, 14 landfills around New York City have filled to capacity. More than 200 billion plastic bottles, 58 billion disposable plastic cups and a billion plastic bags are thrown away every year.
150 years ago, waste consisted mainly of natural products - paper, wood, food, wool and cotton. They decomposed without much harm to the environment, but over time, the garbage became more and more toxic. The content of heavy metals, radioactive substances and plastics based on synthetic resins increased. Modern trash heaps are highly toxic and continue to be harmful even after disposal.
Mountains of death
One way to protect the environment is to build a clay layer to prevent harmful substances from entering the groundwater. However, this method is ineffective because such barriers are short-lived. The harmful effects of the poisonous rubble can last for hundreds of years. In addition, emergency situations occur from time to time at landfills. In 2008, a landslide uncovered a landfill in Dorsetshire (UK) on the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, it is impossible to predict where and how coastal erosion and high tides will affect coastal landfills. The collapses of garbage heaps located near settlements often lead to human casualties, the number of which can amount to tens and hundreds.
Even well-organized landfills create problems. The landfill in Gloucestershire (UK) is allowed to receive 150 thousand tons of hazardous waste per year (paints, varnishes, solvents), which makes it one of the most toxic in Europe. At the same time, 15 thousand people live in three kilometers, and the wind most often blows in the direction from the landfill to the village. The waste disposal method here is extremely primitive: it is mixed with liquid in a silo pit, and then spread over the entire landfill area so that toxic dust does not spread to the surrounding lands and houses. It turns out a substance containing chromium, cadmium and many other heavy metals. Landfill owners deny the existence of toxic dust clouds, which are constantly complained about by the locals. The official conclusion of the authorities was that the landfill most likely posed no real threat to human health.
In reality, the proximity to landfills poses a serious threat to humans and animals. Scientific studies of 21 hazardous waste dumps in five countries have shown that living three kilometers from rubbish heaps, people are at risk of congenital malformations. At the same time, in the UK, which ranks first in Europe in terms of the number of landfills, 80 percent of the population lives just two kilometers from waste storage sites. According to environmentalists, the waste disposal industry in this country has enough funds to hire specialists who are ready to claim that landfills are safe.
Of course, there is an alternative to landfills. Incineration of waste is widely used, although this method is much more expensive than simple disposal. As of 2012, there are about 800 incinerators in the world. In Japan there are about 500, in Britain - more than 30, and this number continues to increase.
In kilns, garbage is burned at very high temperatures, converting it into gas, ash, heat and electricity. There is a more advanced version of this waste disposal method - energy recovery. But this method has its drawbacks. Harmful chemicals are released into the atmosphere, including dioxins - chlorine-containing compounds based on dibenzodioxin. These are some of the most dangerous xenobiotics with cumulative toxic effects.
Complex filters that capture dioxins are expensive and short-lived. In addition, poisonous ash also needs to be disposed of somehow. It is estimated that 50 to 80 percent of the planet's total dioxin pollution comes from incinerators. The Arctic has become one of the most dioxin-infected places on the planet. In the past 20 years, due to global warming, harmful substances contained in polar ice have been reintroduced into the environment.
Dioxins readily enter the food chain and cause various diseases in humans, including cancer. At the same time, cows receive as many toxins from grass per day as a person inhales in 14 years. According to some scientists, dioxins are present in the body of every person, and it is impossible to determine how much of them is safe for health.
In 2009 and 2010, an incineration plant in Cordoba, Argentina, released dioxins into the air that exceeded the permissible level by 52-103 percent. In Ottawa, Canada, the plant ceased operations due to excessive emissions of methane and nitrogen oxides. Operators around the world regularly violate ELVs (maximum permissible emissions). Even state-of-the-art ovens launched in Scotland in 2010 exceeded the limits by 172 times. Dioxins from an incinerator in France killed 350 farms, culled 3,000 farm animals and destroyed 7,000 tons of hay. At the same time, entire cities go bankrupt due to the very expensive maintenance of factories. For example, Detroit residents in the United States paid over a billion dollars to modernize their oven.
In one day, about 3 million kilograms of garbage are removed from the coastal strip around the world. According to environmentalists, smokers leave a huge amount of waste. Cigarette butts are not biodegradable as they are composed of cellulose acetate. Once in the water, they release toxins, poisoning planktonic organisms and fish.
Most of the garbage generated by the people of Jakarta, Indonesia, is known to end up in the waters of the Chilivung River, which has become one of the most polluted in the world. All due to the fact that there is no organized waste collection in the city. Waste of all kinds decomposes in river water, even dead animals. releasing cadaveric poisons. It is estimated that it will take 20 years to clean up the river. At the same time, the lives of millions of people depend on Chilivung, the main source of drinking water. But only a small fraction of the debris remains in place. The river carries almost all waste to the sea, where it causes irreparable harm to many species of marine animals.
According to the UN, there are 46 thousand garbage units per square kilometer of the World Ocean. Plastic particles attract harmful chemical compounds to their surface, which makes it even more dangerous for living organisms and people who eat them. Pollutants accumulate at every level of the food chain, with predators, including humans, being the most infested.
In 1988, scientists began to suspect that ocean debris was accumulating somewhere in the Pacific Ocean due to sea currents. This area, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, collects waste from all over the ocean, including coastal regions of North America and Japan, and does not release it outside its borders. According to preliminary estimates, more than one hundred million tons of garbage have been collected here. However, these clusters do not look like giant islands of plastic and waste. Under the influence of light, plastic breaks down into small particles, and marine animals confuse them with plankton. Thus, plastic is included in the food chain and reaches the person who eats fish and other seafood.
The problem with garbage is becoming more acute every year. Efforts to collect waste separately and then recycle it have long been a necessity, not an overkill that developed countries can afford. In doing so, even one person can help preserve the environment they live in by reducing the number of disposables, plastic bags and utensils they use. Although polyethylene seems convenient and cheap, remember that by throwing it in the trash, people increase the likelihood that it will end up in their stomachs along with toxic substances. However, humanity in any case needs a developed and global infrastructure for waste disposal.