Human activities are largely attributed to the loss of the planet’s biodiversity. The impact of man on the environment is so enormous since he has facilitated the rate of species extinction a thousand to ten thousand times the normal rate (Derraik, 2002). The extinction of marine life for instance, has been accelerated by waste debris and the global climatic variations.
The twenty first century has been marked by a dramatic technological advancement that has uplifted the standard of living. However, this has also come with a great cost since the materials produced are difficult to dispose without affecting the environment. Plastic bags, household garbage and electronic waste are such products, which have posed a great risk to the environment since the means of disposing them is difficult (Derraik, 2002).
Thesis: Garbage remains are a burning problem that we have to face today. It is close to everyone who lives in the world because we product trash every day. In most of the world, we do one of two things with our ordinary garbage: burn it or bury it. Neither one is good for us or for the environment. Burning garbage in incinerators releases dangerous gases and dust which contribute to global warming and pollute lakes, forests. How to reduce the garbage remains become a big issue for everyone.
Typical house hold waste contains papers, cardboards, chlorine-bleached plastics, foils, food scraps and batteries (EPA, 2011). Averagely, in the U.S, a single person can produce 3.72 pounds garbage daily, where 40% of 50 million people living in the non-metropolitan region of the nation are estimated to burn their waste (backyard burning), while 63% of the total daily garbage is incinerated in burn barrels. As a result, more than 1.8 billion pounds of garbage from household is incinerated in burn barrels annually (MDEQ, 2005).
According to Hill (2010 p.345), more than ‘500 billion one-time-use plastic bags’ are used annually in the world and end up being littered ubiquitously to comprise waste/misuse. At the same time, plastics are non-biodegradable and burying them only destroys the ecosystem, posing a hazard to marine ecosystems. Plastics are polymeric, highly non-biodegradable and persist for a long time in the natural environments (Hill, 2010).
Electronic wastes/e-waste comprises of discarded electronic appliances such as computers, phones, TV, and fringes. These are hazardous when improperly disposed in landfills or when incinerated. For instance, the Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT) present in televisions contains phosphors and lead that contaminates the land and water if improperly disposed, or when there is transfer of the ash from the incinerators. Such landfills contaminate the surrounding soil which in turn contaminates the underground water (MDEQ, 2005).
Plastics are derivatives of fossils fuels with varied chemical properties hence, complicating the recycling process. Therefore, burning garbage particularly the ones containing plastics, pollute the atmosphere through emission of toxic gases. Many have volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) such as chlorine/bromine that are released on burning and destroy the ozone layer.
Carbon dioxide and monoxide released from burning organic matter also accumulates in the atmosphere. Ultimately, they deplete the ozone layer resulting to global warming, which is the chief facilitator of climate change (MDEQ, 2005).
PVC in particular, releases dioxin upon burning. Dioxin is an organic chemical, which has detrimental health effects when inhaled since they are carcinogenic and bio-accumulative. Incineration emits flue gas that contains hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) such as carbon monoxide and dioxide, nitrogen oxides, benzene, styrene, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), furans as well as heavy metals like lead, arsenic and mercury, which significantly pollute the environment (MDEQ, 2005).
Burn barrels release smoke containing hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde, which irritates the respiratory system and eyes. Formaldehyde is present in pressed wood and paints. On the other hand, bleached papers and plastics contain chlorine, which releases dioxins when combusted with other garbage at minimal temperatures.
Dioxins cause cancer, immune system dysfunction and birth defects (EPA, 2011). On the same note, statistics from 2002 to 2004 indicates that backyard and barrel burning comprised 57% of the source of furans and dioxins (U.S. Department of Health, 2011; EPA, 2011).
More so, combusting garbage with synthetic materials emits heavy metals that are carcinogenic and implicated with some birth defects. Combusting polystyrene polymers present in foam cups and plastic packaging produce styrene gas that can pass through skin as well as lungs and mucous membranes to cause damage to the central nervous system (U.S. Department of Health, 2011).
Some plastics and electronic wastes go ahead to breakdown into simpler toxic products that pollute the underground as well as the running water when buried or left to litter in dumpsites. After incineration of electronic wastes and plastics, the ashes finally find their way in rivers and lakes thus posing a hazard to marine life.
Mercury, dioxins, Furans and PCBs bioaccumulate in the ecosystem and therefore, they are transferred through the food chain. When plastics pile together due to poor disposal, they clog drainages and sewers leading to floods, where mosquitoes and other pathogens breed causing poor sanitation with serious health implications (Derraik, 2002).
The ash from incinerators may contain hazardous products, which when buried or placed in the landfills, contaminate the soil. Mostly, they contain heavy metals most of which are carcinogenic e.g. cadmium, lead mercury from batteries as well as chromium and arsenic from treated wood. These accumulate in plants or contaminate ground and running water.
Garbage debris moves to the oceans, killing the marine life such as zooplankton and marine turtles. Garbage discarded in beaches and from ships into the waterways or through fishing nets could ultimately be eaten by marine life, obscuring their digestive systems. Some are strangled, entangled or trapped by the debris causing the organisms to drown/starve, become exposed to predators or unable to hunt their prey.
These are some of deleterious impacts of marine debris facilitated by garbage littering, which jeopardize the existence of these organisms (Derraik, 2002). The ingested plastics also contain polychlorinated biphenyls that are hazardous to invader species. Moreover, the marine ecosystems also face the danger of hypoxia/anoxia, due to garbage debris that imbalance its usual functioning (Derraik, 2002).
Solutions and Recommendations
The economic implications of garbage cannot be ignored since enormous amount of money is spent in clearing and treating the litter, addressing public health concerns and recycling. International legislations and cooperation should be oriented towards conserving the environment through proper disposal of garbage, recycling of plastic and use of alternative packaging that are biodegradable or long lasting bags that can be reused severally.
Moreover, public awareness should be enhanced through education of the wider community through the school curriculum. International relations facilitated by the concept of ‘Thinking globally and acting locally’ significantly address the environmental threat posed by garbage disposal (Derraik, 2002).
Garbage pollution can be managed through recycling measures or banning of plastic bags used in packaging. Alternative ecofriendly means of packaging should be drafted while high taxes should be imposed on the manufacturer and consumers of these plastics. Electronic waste can also be recycled and refurbished. ‘Reduce’, ‘Reuse’ and ‘Recycle’ are the 3Rs that go a long way in handling the issue of garbage.
Pre-cycle entails selecting items that are less packaged or those that can be reused. Reuse of old papers, plastic bags and cans, offering old clothes for charity as well as using a coffee mug rather than disposable cups is crucial. Reduce, refers to minimizing the household garbage through purchasing economy packs and avoiding wastage of papers. Recycling of plastics and papers, cardboards and even e-waste should be upheld (U. S. Department of Health, 2011).
Biodegradable garbage should be left to decompose in a composite pit while the rest should be placed in licensed landfills. To sum it all, backyard burning should be regulated in all countries particularly in the rural regions since it does not only pollute the air but also comprises a significant emission of toxic residue that poses a high risk to the public health and more so, decrease the quality of life.
Burn barrels that facilitate incomplete combustion to emit very toxic compounds should be regulated. Therefore, licensed incinerators with filters and temperatures exceeding 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit to facilitate complete combustion, should be embraced to minimize hazardous emissions.
Derraik, J. G. (2002). The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44(9), 842-852.
Hill, M. K. (2010). Understanding Environmental Pollution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). (2005). Backyard Burn Barrels Vs. Municipal Waste Combustors. Retrieved from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-aqd-bhw_273494_7.pdf
U. S. Department of Health. (2011). Does Burning Trash Make it Disappear: Stop Backyard Burning. Retrieved from http://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/air/trash.htm
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2011). Outdoor Air – Industry, Business, and Home: Backyard Trash Burning – Additional Information. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/oaqps001/community/details/barrelburn_addl_info.html