As more industrialized countries run out of landfills to store the increasing amount of waste generated, the need for recycling becomes desperate and urgent. In developing countries, the lack of resources does not allow it to devote waste disposal to collection and recycling. Despite the increase in countries banning or reducing the number of polythene bags for paper or jute bags due to the fact that polythene is non-biodegradable and may take as long as 1000 years to be completely decomposed, the world is still suffering from the lack of land and resources to store the waste generated.
About a hundred billion plastic bags are used each year in the United States alone. The huge economies and populations of India, China, Europe, and other parts of the world will also mean that the statistics are staggering. It is estimated that if everyone of the planet lived like the average person in the industrialized countries, we would need more than one planet Earth to store the waste!
|Landfill operations in Hawaii
-Refer to references for citation and permission of image.
What effect does this have on us?
Most plastic bags go into landfills after usage, but some end up in parks, waterways and even rivers and lakes, littering our landscape. These will result in the digestion of the plastic bags by the animals, which mistake them as food, and by choking or by poisoning, die. Research has shown that 100,000 animals such as dolphins, turtles and whales are killed every year due to human's irresponsible behaviour.
Adding to that, this pollution of our landscape will provide perfect breeding grounds for harmful viruses. Contagious diseases might spread and cause a pandemic in the country, leaving a trail of destruction in its path that we have to be responsible for. Viruses might even mutate into stronger diseases, causing panic and chaos in the world!
Any water bodies near a waste site can also be contaminated. A 1986 study of children with leukemia in Woburn, Massachusetts statistically linked the disease to drinking water supplies that had been contaminated by a waste site. In addition, a 1989 study by the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] examined 593 waste sites in 339 U.S. counties, revealing elevated cancers of the bladder, lung, stomach and rectum in counties with the highest concentration of waste sites.
Furthermore, the incineration of plastic bags also emits toxic fumes into the air. These will cause the air to be polluted and may result in deaths of animals and even humans! These toxic gases in the atmosphere may also cause birth defects to occur in the children of people living near landfills.
Therefore, it is crucial for us to stop the continued construction of landfills and usage of non-biodegradable objects because if this devastating situation continues, the degradation of our planet will continue and ultimately, will cause the eventual extinction of our own species
How do we solve the problem?
First and foremost, we should remember the 3 “R”s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Reduction of the use of plastic bags and instead, opting for paper or jute bags can help to minimize further degradation of waste sites and water pollution near waste sites. Reusing the number of plastic bags that we use can also stop the bags from being incinerated to produce toxic fumes which are released into the air or being dumped irresponsibly. Recycling of most of the waste generated can stop the continued construction of landfills and gear countries towards sustainable development. Together, the 3 “R”s can allow us to move away from landfills and towards waste minimization for a better future.
Secondly, we can increase awareness of the harmful effects of the usage of landfills. In addition, reduction of the use of non-biodegradable objects like plastic bags should be made known to the community. The individual has a part to play in saving our environment, and together, we can all make a huge difference.
Lastly, we can harness the energy stored inside waste by using then as a direct combustion fuel or indirectly, by converting them into another type of fuel. The energy generated can be used to power household appliances ranging from the boiler to the lights so that the burning of fossil fuels which contributes to global warming can be reduced or stopped altogether.
We must take action and make a difference before the problem becomes irreversible.
Do you think that the solutions are useful in helping us reduce the continued construction of landfills and usage of non-biodegradable materials? Will you take action if you had known about them? Do you think others will follow suit?