Businesses, hospitals, and individuals create thousands of tons of waste every day. This waste pollutes the land and water and can cause health problems in humans and animals if not managed effectively. Waste management solutions attempt to reduce the negative effects of waste. Common waste management solutions include collecting waste in dumps and landfills, recycling, and decreasing overall waste production.
The oldest waste management solutions, nearly as old as human civilization, were the waste heap or dump. People would collect their waste and dump it into a pit or simply make a pile. These piles often stank. Bacteria grew in them, causing disease that was spread by animals eating or living in the waste. They also caused environmental problems when rainwater runoff contaminated local water sources.
Over the years, landfills replaced dumps as the waste management solutions of choice. In landfills, the waste is compacted, and the resulting cubes are covered with layers of soil. This reduces smells and keeps animals away, as the garbage is not exposed to the air. It does nothing to protect the water table, however. Rain water can still carry dangerous chemicals and pathogens through the soil and into the drinking water, so the water seeping through the landfill must be collected and treated before it is released into the environment.
Despite the environmental problems, landfills are one of the most common waste management solutions. They do have some societal benefits. Land that is no longer in use as a landfill can be converted into public space, a park for instance. Governments from Israel to New York have taken this approach to reusing landfills that have reached capacity.
Recycling is another waste management solution. Instead of just being thrown away, waste is reused as much as possible. This results in less waste in the landfill because much of it has been diverted for reuse. It also means fewer raw materials are needed for manufacturing because they are being recycled from waste instead.
The drawback is that recycling can be time consuming and costly. Either home owners or transfer station employees must sort all the trash into categories. Glass is recycled using a different process than paper. A certain amount of technology is needed for the recycling process, making recycling too expensive for some regions to support.
All of these waste management solutions focus on waste that has already been created. Another strategy is to decrease the overall production of waste. That means encouraging people to use only what they need and not to throw as much away.