Urbanization has brought forth one of the most challenging environmental issues- landfill waste management. Every year, the amount of landfill produced is increasing at an alarming rate. With the increase in urban population, the world faces a larger threat than ever before. According to recent surveys, more than 1.3 billion tons of solid waste is generated by cities every year. By the end of 2025, the waste generation rates are expected to increase by 70%.
Waste management has become a serious challenge for millions of fast growing cities around the world. The overall cost of waste management has risen substantially in the past year and there is an expectation that it can reach a staggering rate $375 billion per year by 2025.
Effects of Population on Landfills
The ever increasing rate of population and subsequent increase in urbanization is one of the main reasons for the increase in landfills all around the world. More people means more solid waste dumped each and every day. It is more or less similar to a vicious cycle. As population increases, the demand for manufactured products also increases. This leads to an increase in solid waste generation. Rapid urbanization led to a huge increase in the usage of plastic materials and their dumping in the landfills. More than 80% of the landfills constitute of plastic waste which pose a great health risk as it is non-biodegradable.
Impact of Landfills on the Environment
Landfills cause innumerable environmental problems which pose a serious threat to mankind. The negative effects of landfills fall into two major categories- atmospheric effects and hydrological effects.
Atmospheric effects due to waste management
According to the reports of New York State’s Department of Health, more than 98% of the landfill gas constitute of carbon dioxide and methane. Apart from that, there are several other gases such as hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfide and ammonia which emancipate from landfills in small amounts. Methane emissions are more potent and harmful than carbon dioxide.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), release of methane gas is usually due to the decomposition of organic waste and from household cleaning chemicals found in the landfills. This gas can further trap solar radiation.
In addition to methane gas, agricultural chemicals such as ammonia and bleach also produce toxic gases that affect the quality of air. Landfill gases seldom remain in one area. When it emancipates into the air, it finds its way into homes, offices, buildings and other areas in the vicinity and causes serious health issues. Non-chemical contaminants, odor and dust created by these landfills seriously affect the air quality and pose a threat to mankind.
Hydrological effects of waste management
Home cleaning chemicals, industrial wastes and solvents are dumped in landfills and over time, it creates a toxic soup which seriously affects the quality of water. Groundwater contamination is a direct result of leachate from landfills. The possibility of contamination is high in areas that are in close proximity to landfills. Heavy metals such as nickel, barium, cobalt, lead, fire retardants, organic compounds, disinfectants and pesticides seep into the soil when it is dumped in landfills. These harmful chemicals contaminate groundwater and cause serious health issues.
Leachates from landfills also contaminate surface water posing a threat to animals and fish. Landfills contain ammonia which converts to nitrogen and increases the growth of algae. The oxygen level in the water gets depleted due to this phenomenon and it results in the death of fish.
Other Environmental Problems
Landfill fires due to inefficient waste management
Waste and gases from landfills can easily cause a fire that can be extremely dangerous if uncontrolled. Landfill fires are mainly caused due to the presence of methane that is highly combustible. Fire retardant foams usually help to control or put out landfill fires, since these fires usually start as a result of chemical induction. There are more than 8000 landfill fires in U.S every year according to the University of Iowa.
Global warming is one of the most serious environmental issues in front of the world today. The release of toxic gases such as methane and carbon dioxide into the air is one of the major causes for green house effect and global warming.
Landfills are Choking the Earth but Rubbish Keeps on Coming
The effects of landfills are deleterious and it is choking the earth. It has become pertinent to reduce the amount of landfill waste all around the world by incorporating various strategies. Many cities around the world are implementing effective strategies through zero waste programs and aggressive recycling. There is a strict ban on the use of plastic shopping bags in many countries.
New York City
The Big Apple is perhaps the largest city in the world that generates more than 14 million tons of trash every year. Amidst the numerous challenges faced by this densely populated city, waste management and removal is the foremost. The city relies on two agencies for waste management- public and private. It has a diverse network of waste removal facilities that serve government offices, residential buildings and so forth. The New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and the private commercial firms remove solid waste from the city.
Waste management and recycling system of the city is based on a curbside program that requires waste to be categorized into three sections- paper, metal/glass/plastic and solid waste. Each type of waste categorization is separate and continue as individual transportation to waste transfer stations. Garbage is collected from these stations and loaded onto trains and then ultimately dumped in landfills. While 80% of the mixed solid waste is dumped in landfills, 20% of it is transferred to energy plants. In the year 2011, PlaNYC premiered in the city which aimed to reduce solid waste from landfills by the year 2030. However, in 2015, this plan underwent a rebranding as OneNYC. The new goal of this plan was to attain zero waste by 2030.
Another city that has witnessed rapid growth and urbanization is Beijing. Like many other large cities in the world, Beijing is also facing waste management issues. The city had no waste management policies till the year 1979 but with the passage of time, waste generation began to exceed its disposal capacity with huge non-biodegradable trash. It was then that the city began to search for alternative disposal methods. Finally in the year 1994, Beijing built its first landfill. By 2000, 90% of the garbage was sent to the landfills.
Nevertheless by the year 2008, landfills became incapable of supporting the ever increasing waste generated by the city. Beijing then began to focus on conservation of resources and overall reduction of waste. The city also introduced incineration to tackle the problem of solid waste accumulation. But incineration causes air pollution which is even more toxic to the environment. China is now searching for better alternatives to recycle and reduce waste. In the year 2012, the city introduced the “reverse vending machine” to dispose plastic bottles.
With a population rate of over 7.2 million, Hong Kong is another urban city, with a massive population, that generates over 18,000 tons of solid waste every day. Hong Kong spends around $181 million USD every year for waste management. This urban area largely resorts to recycling methods to reduce landfill waste. The Waste Reduction Framework Plan (WRFP) focuses on a recycling program along with prevention and reuse of waste materials. However, by 2002, Hong Kong was unable to keep pace with the growing waste generation.
By the year 2014, recycling rate escalated to 23% from 10%. The city is unable to conceal the increasing landfill waste generated every year.
Effect of Waste Management on Future Generation
Tons of junk and garbage dumps into the landfills will create environmental issues to our future generations. Most of the landfill waste contains plastics that take many years to decompose. Plastics decompose at a very slow pace and release harmful toxins. Planning consistent waste elimination in landfills will lead to several issues in the long run. It can prove to be detrimental to our future generations.
Even a Small Step Can Make a Huge Difference for waste management
Although it is seemingly impossible to totally eliminate waste from households, industries and other places, there are many ways to reduce the amount of trash production every day. You can incorporate simple and easy ways to protect the environment by recycling and reusing materials to reduce the impact of waste generation. Today majority of the cities are devising new techniques to reduce and manage waste effectively.
There are numerous challenges regarding waste disposal as it is a complex process in most of the urban areas having a dense population. Our natural resources need careful preservation for future generation by reusing and recycling products and materials. In this way, you can protect your environment for your future generation. True, there is no perfect solution to completely wipe out garbage and waste from the face of the earth. But you can take small steps and alter a few things in life to reduce the waste you generate every day and create a beautiful and better tomorrow for your grandchildren.