Chapter 17: Managing Waste

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Waste
Any unwanted material or substance that results from a human activity or process
Municipal solid waste
Nonliquid waste from homes, institutions, and small businesses (UT)
Industrial solid waste
From production of goods, mining, agriculture, petroleum extraction and refining (large industry)
Hazardous waste
Solid or liquid waste that is toxic, chemically reactive, flammable, or corrosive (4 criteria)
source reduction
Minimize the amount of waste generated
-The preferred approach

Recover waste materials and recycle them

Dispose of waste safely and effectively

Preventing waste in the first place

Avoids costs of disposal and recycling

Helps conserve resources and minimizes pollution

Can save consumers and businesses money
Waste stream
The flow of waste as it moves from its sources to its disposal destinations
U.S municipal solid waste
Most U.S. municipal solid waste ("trash" or "garbage") consists of paper, yard debris, food scraps, and plastics
-Food scraps and plastics are the largest components

Most municipal solid waste comes from packaging and nondurable goods (discarded after a short time of use)

As we get more goods, we generate more waste
Developing nations are producing waste
Consumption is greatly increasing in developing nations
-Rising standard of living, more packaging, poor-quality goods

Wealthy consumers discard items that can still be used

Poor people support themselves by selling items they scavenge from dumps
Disposal methods have improved
Efforts minimize impacts on health and the environment

Recycling and composting are decreasing pressure on landfills
Sanitary landfills
Waste buried in the ground or piled in large mounds to prevent contamination and health threats

U.S. landfills must meet the EPA's national standards
under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976 (clay and plastic layer)
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976
Management of non-hazardous and hazardous solid waste including landfills and storage tanks. Set minimal standards for all waste disposal facilities and for hazardous wastes.

U.S. landfills must meet the EPA's national standards - have clay and plastic lining
soil layers in landfills
Waste is partly decomposed by bacteria and compresses under its own weight to make more space

Soil layers reduce odor, speed decomposition, reduce infestation by pests

Closed landfills must be capped and maintained
leachate
Liquid from trash dissolved by rainwater

It is collected and treated in landfills

Collection systems must be maintained for 30 years after a landfill is closed
drawbacks of landfills
Despite improved technology, liners can be punctured

Leachate collection systems won't be kept up

It takes decades for waste to decay

The not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) syndrome
The not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) syndrome
residents don't want landfills in their areas

Wealthy, educated people have the political clout to prevent landfills from being sited in their neighborhoods

Landfills are disproportionately sited in poor and minority communities (environmental justice problems)
Incineration
A controlled process that burns garbage at very high temperatures

Metals are removed, and the rest is burned in a furnace

The remaining ash is toxic and must be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill

Hazardous emissions are created and released

cons: Lot of money to build, toxic ash (hazardous landfill), produce a lot of emissions
Scrubbers
Chemically treat emissions to remove hazardous chemicals and neutralize acidic gases
Fly ash
particulate matter that can be very toxic
Baghouse
huge filters that physically remove fly ash
Waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities
Use the heat produced by waste combustion to create electricity
Landfill gas
Bacterial decomposition creates a mix of gases that consists of 50% methane

Can be collected, processed, and used like natural gas
Most waste consists of materials used to package goods
To reduce waste, use minimal or recyclable packaging
-Buy unwrapped fruit and vegetables
-Reduce the size or weight of goods and materials
-Choose products that motivate producers to create longer-lasting goods
Composting
The conversion of organic waste into mulch or humus through natural decomposition

It can be used to enrich soil
Home composting
Householders place waste into composting piles, underground pits, or specially constructed containers

Heat from microbial action builds up and spurs decomposition

Earthworms, bacteria, and other organisms convert waste into high-quality compost

No meat, dairy (spoil); make sure there is no pesticides
Municipal composting programs
These programs divert food and yard waste from the waste stream to central composting facilities
-People can use the mulch in gardens and landscaping

Half of U.S. states now ban yard wastes from the municipal waste stream
-Accelerating the move to composting
Recycling consists of three steps
Step 1: collection and processing of recyclable materials through curbside recycling or designated locations
-Materials recovery facilities (MRFs): workers and machines sort, clean, shred, and prepare items

Step 2: using recyclables to produce new goods
-Glass, metal, paper, plastics use recycled materials

Step 3: consumers buy goods made from recycled materials
-Incentives for further recycling
-Facilities are built or expanded
We can recycle materials from landfills
Businesses are weighing the benefits of salvaging materials in landfills that can be recycled
-Metals (steel, copper)
-Organic waste for compost
-Wastes can be incinerated in WTE facilities
-Harvesting methane from open dumps (Asia, Africa)

But costs and regulatory requirements have made investing in landfill mining risky
-Rising prices and better technologies will change this
"Pay-as-you-throw" approach
residents are charged according to how much trash they put out

The less waste, the less a person has to pay
Bottle bills
Consumers receive a refund for returning used bottles and cans to stores

These bills are effective and popular

Container litter is reduced 69-84%

Total litter is reduced by 30-64%

States are beginning or expanding their programs
Industrial solid waste
Is not municipal or hazardous waste

Comes from factories, mining, agriculture, petroleum extraction, etc.

97% is wastewater

States and local governments regulate this (with federal guidance)

State and local rules are less strict than federal rules
industrial waste disposal
Most methods and strategies of waste disposal, reduction, and recycling are similar to those for municipal solid waste

Industries may not be required to have permits or install liners or leachate collection systems
-Or even to monitor groundwater for contamination

It may be cheaper to generate waste than to avoid it
-Industries are awarded for economic, not physical, efficiency

Once government or the market makes it efficient, businesses gain incentives to reduce their waste
Industrial ecology
Involves redesigning industrial systems to reduce resource inputs while maximizing physical and economic efficiency

Based on principle that industrial systems should function like ecological systems, with little waste

examines how waste products can be used as raw materials
-Eliminates harmful products and materials
-Creates durable, recyclable, or reusable products
Life-cycle analysis
Examines the life cycle of a product to make the process more ecologically efficient
Ignitable
criteria for hazardous waste

Easily catches fire (natural gas, alcohol)
Corrosive
criteria for hazardous waste

Corrodes metals in storage tanks or equipment
Reactive
criteria for hazardous waste

Chemically unstable and readily reacts with other compounds

Often explosively or by producing noxious fumes
Toxic
criteria for hazardous waste

Harms human health when inhaled, ingested, or touched
Hazardous wastes are diverse
Industry produces the largest amount of hazardous waste
-But waste generation and disposal are highly regulated

Households: the largest source of unregulated hazardous waste
-Paint, batteries, solvents, cleaners, pesticides, etc.

Many hazardous substances become less hazardous over time
-But others may be especially persistent (e.g., radioactive waste, organic compounds, heavy metals)
Synthetic organic compounds
resist bacterial, fungal, and insect activity
-Plastics, tires, pesticides, solvents, wood preservatives
-Keep buildings from decaying, kill pests, and keep stored goods intact

Their resistance to decay makes them persistent pollutants
-They are toxic because they are readily absorbed through the skin
-They can act as mutagens, carcinogens, teratogens, or endocrine disruptors
heavy metals
Lead, chromium, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, tin, and copper
-Used widely in industry for wiring, electronics, metal plating and fabrication, pigments, and dyes
-Enter the environment when they are disposed of improperly

those that are fat soluble and break down slowly can bioaccumulate and biomagnify
Electronic waste (e-waste)
Waste involving electronic devices

Computers, printers, cell phones, TVs, MP3 players

Americans discard 300 million devices per year
-3/4 still work

They are put in landfills but should be treated as hazardous waste
Several steps precede the disposal of hazardous waste
Communities designate sites, collection days, or facilities to gather household hazardous waste
-Waste is then transported for treatment and disposal
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
the EPA sets standards, but the...States manage hazardous waste

Large generators of hazardous waste must obtain permits
-Materials must be tracked "from cradle to grave"
-Intended to prevent illegal dumping
hazardous waste dumping
Hazardous waste disposal is costly
-Often results in illegal dumping

Illegal dumping creates health risks
-Along with financial headaches for dealing with it

Industrial nations illegally dump in developing nations
-The Basel Convention, an international treaty, should prevent dumping, but it still happens

High costs also encourage companies to invest in reducing their hazardous waste
-Incineration, bacterial and plant decomposition, etc.
Hazardous waste landfills
do not lessen the hazards of the substances
-But they help keep the substance isolated from people, wildlife, and ecosystems

Their design and construction standards are stricter than those for ordinary sanitary landfills (monitoring greater)

Must have several impervious liners and leachate removal systems

Must be located far from aquifers
Surface impoundments
Store liquid hazardous waste

Shallow depressions are lined with plastic and clay

The liquid or slurry evaporates

The residue of solid hazardous waste is transported elsewhere for disposal

This storage method is only temporary
-The clay layer can crack and leak waste
-Rainstorms cause overflow, contaminating nearby areas
Deep-well injection
A well is drilled deep beneath the water table

Waste is injected into it

A long-term disposal method

The well is isolated from groundwater and humans

But the wells can corrode and leak waste
Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) (1980) [Superfund Act]
is administered by the EPA

Established a federal program to clean up U.S. sites polluted with hazardous waste
brownfields
The EPA must also clean up these

Lands whose reuse or development is complicated by the presence of hazardous materials
Two events spurred creation of Superfund legislation
In Love Canal, Niagara Falls, New York, in 1978-1980, families were evacuated after buried chemicals rose to the surface

Times Beach, Missouri, was evacuated after contamination with dioxin (carcinogens) from oil sprayed on roads
The Superfund process
Once a Superfund site is identified, EPA scientists note:
-How close the site is to human habitation
-Whether wastes are currently confined or likely to spread
-Whether the site threatens drinking water supplies

Harmful sites are placed on the National Priority List
-Ranked by their level of risk to human health (1-worst)
-Cleanup occurs as funds are available

The EPA must hold public hearings to inform area residents of its findings and to receive feedback
polluter-pays principle
CERCLA operates under this

charge polluting parties for cleanup

However, the responsible parties often can't be found
-A trust fund was established by a federal tax on the petroleum and chemical industries
-The fund is bankrupt, and Congress has not restored it; taxpayers now pay all costs of cleanup

Fewer cleanups are being completed