In all nations he public and their servants are continually seeking out new environmental waste solutions. As time goes on these are becoming more and more sophisticated in order to protect our environment.
The problem is that once an environmental waste solution has been found for one problem science and industry tends to create a new chemical or product which in some way is hazardous and needs a new environmental waste solution to avoid damage to the environment.
Waste is generated in all sorts of ways. Its composition and volume largely depend on consumption patterns and the industrial and economic structures in place. Waste is considered to be the by-product of both natural and artificial processes: manufacturing, chemical reactions, and even events in biochemical pathways.
But how do we distinguish the main products of an activity from its by-products? Waste is directly linked to the human development, both technologically and socially. The composition of different wastes has varied over time and location, with industrial development and innovation being directly linked to waste materials.
Waste is not just waste – it can also become a resource and a material supply for another person. The underlying philosophy for the European environmental policy is now to regard waste as a resource, and if this is pursued to its logical conclusion it can in theory provide an environmental waste solution by effectively eliminating waste.
However, one waste for which most of us would say there is no satisfactory environmental waste solution is nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is not just the material left after it has been used and becomes ‘spent’. Nuclear power stations and reprocessing plants release small quantities of radioactive gases (e.g, krypton-85 and xenon-133) and trace amounts of iodine-131 to the atmosphere. However, they have short half-lives, and the radioactivity in the emissions is diminished by delaying their release.
Nuclear power then also leaves us with those spent reactor core materials to dispose of. If you carry out controlled fission in a nuclear power station, you get long-lived radioactive waste, and that poses a long-term hazard to the environment unless it is dealt with properly.
E-waste is another form of waste material for which society is seeking satisfactory environmental solutions. E-waste is a popular, informal name for electronic products nearing the end of their “useful life”. Computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, and fax machines are common electronic products. Most of these are laden with toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium that can leach into water, soils and the atmosphere, posing significant environmental and human health risks. However, many of these products can be reused, refurbished, or recycled so the obvious waste solution is to return these goods to the original manufacturer who can best reprocess and re-use the materials and by so doing also save on use of the earth’s resources.
Plastic is an increasing burden on our landfills and recycling efforts. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just zap the plastic and make it go away? That’s is not going to happen of course, but the all pervasive nature of plastic bags for example in the sea and daily injury being to thousands of all types of creatures through ingestion and stomach obstruction, even sometimes suffocation, is alarming. If we knew years ago the damage and the extreme difficulty in finding an environmental solution to the plastic litter problem we would maybe not have allowed these bags to be sued as much as they have been.
Municipal waste, when properly managed, does not pose an immediate threat to human health or the environment. This one of our society’s environmental waste solutions is carried out at high cost but is being done quite satisfactorily in most developed nations. Many municipalities are said to now spend 40% of their operational budget on waste-related activities according to one internet report, and the worry is that these are services which often in some poorer nations benefit commercial, high and middle income areas only. Other internet sites suggest that estimates show that 10 million chronically poor people rely on waste picking for their day to day survival – and that definitely needs an environmental waste solution and fast!
So once we have created the waste, there is no easy environmental waste solution to its disposal. The only answer is not to create waste in the first place. Zero waste is a great concept as an environmental waste solution which also produces more jobs for less investment than any other waste management strategy. It also reduces toxic pollution as it incorporates clean production. Zero Waste is a way of thinking, and a path to travel, rather than an absolute. Subscribing to Zero Waste does not mean instantly eliminating every last piece of waste whatever the cost.