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Introduction to Waste Management Modern industrial society generates a large quantity of waste products. These wastes have been categorized into two distinct groups: solid waste and hazardous waste. The major components of solid waste are: paper, food, wood and yard wastes, glass, metals, plastics, and textiles. Sources of these wastes include agriculture, industry, mining, milling, commercial enterprises, and households. Primary management techniques for the disposal of these wastes include: Incineration. Incineration involves the burning of trash and garbage in a large furnace at high temperatures. This technique of waste incineration dates back to the late 19th century. By the 1940s, the burning of waste was becoming unpopular because of the air pollution and large amounts of ash residue and nonburnables produced. However, these inefficient incinerators were replaced with improved systems that produced relatively less air pollution and more complete burning of waste materials. Starting in the 1970s more environmentally friendly systems were being built that used the generated heat to produce electricity. Incinerators generate large amounts of toxic waste that is released into the atmosphere. Some of the major pollutants released with combustion include lead, mercury, cadmium, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, sulfuric acid, fluorides, and dioxins. Dumps, Landfills, and Ocean Dumping. One of the oldest methods of getting rid of wastes is dumping these material on some unwanted land surface. Dumps have been replaced in recent times by sanitary landfills. Landfills differ from dumps because the waste is deposited in a depression, compacted and then covered with soil. These systems are more "sanitary" than open dumps. Open dumps have odors, are not visually appealing, allow for the development of disease, and can attract various types of pest organisms. Many coastal communities dump their waste into the ocean. Common materials dumped into the ocean include: dredge materials, industrial wastes, sewage, construction and demolition materials, and garbage. Dumping often causes the ocean habitat to become polluted. Sometimes ocean pollution from the dumping of wastes toxifies shellfish and other marine organisms. Studies on the east coast of the United States and marine waters of Europe have shown that blooms of toxic algae and associated fish kills are becoming more common. Hazardous waste is any discarded substance that is: Fatal to humans or other organisms at low quantities. Toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic or teratogenic to humans or other organisms. Ignitable with a flash point less than 60 degrees Celsius. Corrosive, explosive or highly chemically reactive. Most hazardous waste is generated from metal processing, mining, chemical production, or the refining of petroleum. A number of techniques have been used to try to dispose of this type of toxic waste. These techniques include: Incineration. Storage in lagoons and pits. Discharge into streams or ocean for dilution. Detoxification, recycled, or recovered. Injection into deep wells or salt caverns. Despite best intentions to rid the environment of hazardous waste, these substances have toxified the Earth's atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere. Numerous cases of toxification of humans and other forms of life have been reported and verified. The following web sites provide some interesting discussion on this very important environmental problem. United States EPA Office or Solid Waste http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/index.htm Environment Canada Greenlane: Pollution and Toxics http://www.ec.gc.ca/pollut_e.html University of California at Berkeley: Center for Nuclear and Toxic Waste Management http://cnwm.berkeley.edu/cnwm/ Management of Wastes In general, disposal practices for solid and hazardous waste products have not been satisfactory. One of the most important solutions to this problems is to produce less waste. When compared to Japan, Canada and the United States produce about two to three times more waste per person despite having similar levels of economic prosperity. A number of different techniques can be used to reduce the production of wastes. In the past few decades, significant progress has been made in recycling materials like glass, various metals, plastics, and paper. Very little progress has been made in reducing the packaging associated with consumable goods. Governments can also create stronger legislation to reduce the production of both solid and hazardous wastes.
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