All types of waste can be found on land. Some is left behind after human activities and some is washed ashore from boats and sewage outlets.
The definition of waste depends on what is viable to recycle, both economically and environmentally. Landfill is the major method for waste disposal. Landfills are holes in the ground where the waste is placed, perhaps the site of a disused quarry or pit, or they may be purposefully excavated.
Landfills may be noisy with traffic, dusty and smelly: in addition, wind blown litter, pests and flies may be a problem. Landfills contain a mixture of wastes, some of which may be soluble, toxic and reactive during decomposition. When full, landfills are landscaped and may appear no different from the surrounding countryside. Although some old ones are being built on, they are not really suitable for habitation.
Biodegradable matter in landfills is decomposed by bacteria, producing large quantities of carbon dioxide and methane - both greenhouse gases. Methane is potentially explosive and can cause fires. Pollutants such as heavy metals, toxic chemicals and the result of a chemical reaction between the mixture of different wastes may contaminate the environment.
In the short- term, landfills appear the cheap option. But in the long term they are a huge financial burden. This is because they need to be monitored for landfill gas and contamination of nearby land, waterways and groundwater, for many decades after they are closed.
People who live near landfill sites may be exposed to chemicals released into the air, water, or soil. Air contamination includes off-site migration of gases, dust and chemicals bound to dust, especially during the operation of the site. Local surface water and groundwater can become contaminated, and these may in turn contaminate drinking water supplies or water for recreational use. Chemical contamination of air, water, or soil may also affect locally grown and consumed food produce. Therefore, a landfill site may be a health risk for local residents and their children.
Landfill sites have to be chosen carefully. In some countries land is scarce and it is difficult to find suitable areas. The danger of pollution to groundwater supplies, caused by the leaching of toxic liquids from the rotting mess, is a serious problem.
An industrial country with the population the size of the UK creates around 350 million tonnes of waste per year, of which 9% or 30 million tonnes is household waste. The collection and disposal of household waste costs £720 million (US$ 1.15 billion) a year. About 85% of it goes into landfills, 10% into the sea, and 5% into incineration, deep burial and chemical solidification.
7.7 million tonnes of paper from 130 million trees are consumed in Britain each year, yet only 27% are recycled. The daily circulation of one popular newspaper alone consumes 4000 trees. 700 million aerosol cans are produced in the world every year; even though they are wasteful, dangerous if burned or punctured and cannot be recycled.
Australians use 7kg of steel cans a year and only 30% of these are recycled. They use over one billion milk and juice cartons every year, and only 10% of these are currently recycled.
An average Western dustbin contains 10% Glass, 30% Paper/Cardboard, 9% Metals, 3% Textiles, 4% Plastics, 23% Vegetables, 21% Dust, Cinders and others. Some of this waste also contains poisonous substances, such as mercury and cadmium from batteries, old medicines, household cleaning and decorating chemicals and garden chemicals. Less than 10% of household waste is recycled.
We create too much waste and in particular too much unnecessary packaging and we do not adequately recycle the waste we create. Many of the resources we use in our everyday lives are disposed of quickly. Food is wrapped in paper or plastic bags, drinks are in throw-away bottles or cans, batteries are disposed of after a short life.
Too many cans are needlessly ending up in landfill when they could be recycled into cars, bridges, freezers or more steel cans.
In many countries collection authorities have set up a system for householders to separate their rubbish into paper, glass and metal, and this makes recycling easier. Recycling facilities operate all over Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Beteen 1990 and 2005 the amount of waste recycled, doubled in the United States, from fifteen percent to thirty percent. In some countries however, and particularly in the developing world, massive quantities of waste is still dumped in landfills.
What you can do
Avoid over packaged products. Buy things made to last. Take a bag when you shop. Take direct action outside your supermarket to get the retailer to reduce packaging. Write to retailers and ask them to reduce production at source.
Write a letter or email to the editor of your local newspaper; urge him or her to publish your concerns about landfill sites and recycling.
Report anyone who actively dumps waste to the appropriate authorities.
Ring talk back radio expressing concern with increased noisy traffic, dust and smells, wind blown litter, pests and fly’s around your local landfill sites.
Write a letter or email to the politicians listed under the heading for your country on our automated lobbying service and ask for more to be done to protect our environment from the harm caused by landfill sites.
Separate collections do cost in the short term but save resources, disposal costs and immeasurable environmental damage. If you don't have separate recycling, press your local council to set one up. Failing this, ask them to provide more convenient recycling collection points. What is the point of driving miles to your nearest collection point if, in the process, you are using up oil, creating pollution and adding to global warming.
Reduce, re-use and recycle. We can cut down on waste in our dustbins with a little thought and effort. We can separate household waste at home for recycling. More than half of our domestic waste could be recycled or reused but once it is mixed up it becomes more difficult to separate different components for recycling. Some materials can be removed from waste at disposal sites - steel cans, for instance, can be remove magnetically but home separation is preferable. The organic component of waste can also be separated and recycled by composting.
Use the following guide for each product:
Glass: Bottles or jars can be reused or taken to a bottle bank for recycling. Broken glass can be repeatedly recycled with no reduction in quality, saving energy and raw materials. Returnable containers such as milk bottles can be used many times over. Unfortunately now a lot of glass has plastic in its composition making these containers non re-usable and harder to recycle.
Metals: Used aluminium and steel cans can be collected as scrap and smelted for re-use. Avoid batteries. They contain a range of metals but are difficult to recycle. Many developed countries have a system for collecting and recycling used batteries. Rechargeable batteries are now widely available and economical to use. Mobile phones can now have the metals removed for recycling.
Textiles: Old clothes may be given to charity shops or jumble sales or used as rags. Some textiles can be re-used for blankets and cloths.
Plastics: These are derived from a finite supply of fossil fuels. As there are many types of plastics with different chemical properties, it is not easy to recycle them. Many drink bottles are made from a plastic called PET, which can be re-used. Few recycling schemes have been set up as yet for plastics. Most plastics do not degrade and remain a nuisance in the environment for many years. Biodegradable plastics have been developed but these are not suitable for recycling.
Paper and Board: Most of this can be recycled or reused. Recycled paper products are becoming widely available. You can help by buying recycled paper products. Recycled tissues and toilet rolls should be greyish in colour rather than brilliant white. Do not waste paper!
Vegetable Waste: A bucket with a lid makes a good container for vegetable waste that can be regularly added to the compost heap for use in the garden.