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After completing this chapter you should be able to...
- Distinguish between biodegradable and nondegradable waste.
- Provide examples of hazardous waste.
- List the major waste generating processes globally.
- Compare the volume of waste generated per person per day in the U.S. with other countries around the world.
- Define municipal solid waste and describe its composition in the U.S.
- Compare open dumps, sanitary landfills, and incineration, outlining the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
- Explain how trash enters the ocean and how it harms marine life.
- Explain the waste management hierarchy.
- List the four R's and provide examples of each.
- Explain the benefits and process of composting.
Solid waste refers to a variety of discarded materials that are deemed useless and discarded by humans. Waste may be easily broken down (biodegradable) or nondegradable. Hazardous waste is harmful to human health. Examples include batteries, cleaners, and e-waste. Agriculture, industry, and mining generate most of the world's waste. Municipal solid waste (MSW) is discarded from residences, businesses, and city buildings, and the U.S. generates more MSW per person per day than most countries around the world.
Three strategies for disposing of waste are open dumps, sanitary landfills, and incinerators. Open dumps cause disease spread, air pollution, and water pollution, and are thus illegal in the U.S. About half of the MSW in the U.S. goes to sanitary landfills, which compact trash and seal it to prevent pollution. Incinerators burn trash, which reduces its volume while generating energy.
Ocean dumping and escape of trash from overfilled bins and open dumps has contaminated the ocean with many plastics. These break into small pieces and form garbage patches. Plastic in the ocean can trap, poison, or otherwise harm marine life.
The waste management hierarchy diagrams the priorities of waste reduction. Source reduction and recycling are key to limiting waste and mitigating its environmental impacts. However, a large volume of trash goes to disposal, the least preferred method for handling waste. Individuals can limit their own waste by employing the four R's: refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle. Composting at home also reduces food and yard waste.
Melissa Ha (CC-BY-NC)