When it comes to waste, the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is sadly valid for many people. Rubbish and all unwanted or leftover materials and substances have a seriously negative impact on the world around us. Here are just some of the main reasons why waste is becoming such a big problem worldwide.
Contaminating Soils and Groundwater
Most waste ends up in landfills, and they all eventually leak, no matter how “state of the art” they are. This means all the harmful chemicals in the refuse end up in the soil, contaminating it and the groundwater, which eventually leads to harming plants and all living beings, including humans. Once contaminated, polluted soil is almost impossible to clean with the only solution being digging it up to clean the area.
Contaminating Surface Waters
The chemicals in our waste don’t just leak into the soil. They can also reach the surface of nearby waters, ruining habitats and harming all creatures that drink from those water sources. Further contamination is caused by tons of rubbish, either blown by the wind, human carelessness, fallen from ships or spread around by extreme phenomena such as tsunamis. In the Pacific Ocean, for instance, there’s a huge accumulation of trash, plastics and debris in the middle of the water, spanning hundreds of miles. It is called the Pacific Garbage Patch and it’s not the only such disaster – there are many other such, though less notorious, patches across our oceans.
All that plastic and garbage is often ingested by fish, birds and other marine animals, causing irreparable harm or even death. This also harms other animals higher up the food chain because of all the chemicals in or released by the waste. If they don’t die or get seriously ill ingesting waste, many animals, from seals to other mammals, drown entangled in the rubbish or abandoned fishing nets found in the water.
Waste also releases dangerous chemicals and gasses into the air, especially in open-air dumps and through incineration. The air pollution near these areas not only reduces the quality of life because of the foul odours and harms the health of the people living nearby, but it also endangers future generations. Studies show that, in communities located close to landfills and garbage incinerators, considerably more children are born with birth defects.
It is clear that something must be done to handle waste more effectively, considering rubbish dumps, landfills and incineration are not only harmful, but also incredibly costly. Recycling has yet to become financially viable, and therefore waste minimisation and education towards adopting less wasteful practices are the first highly important steps to be taken.27