In our previous blog post, “The Trash Problem, Part 1: Landfills,” we discussed how the trash we create is buried in landfills, releasing not only greenhouse gases that pollute our environment but also increasing the contamination risk of our water systems. Now lets take a look at incineration, which involves the combustion or controlled burning of solid waste.
One benefit of the incineration process is that it significantly reduces the volume of waste. It is popular especially in areas where space is very limited and delegating large areas as landfills is not a viable option. While incineration may seem like a good alternative or complement to landfilling in theory, it is not without health and environmental implications.
Advancements in technology has allowed for some incineration facilities to recover recyclables before burning, recover energy during the combustion process, and utilize a variety of pollution control devices to reduce gas emissions. Beyond these positive steps, however, incineration still raises serious concerns. While there may be health and environmental regulations that monitor incineration facilities, in many countries including the US, incinerators are legally allowed to release significant amounts of toxic substances into the air that are harmful to our environment and our health. Currently, Americans generate over 250 million tons of trash each year. As population increases and we continue to create more trash, we will run out of land available for landfills. As a result, we will gradually rely more heavily on incineration, releasing more harmful toxic substances into the environment.
Yes, it seems logical that we need to figure out a better, safer way to handle our trash. Unfortunately, trash is a solid matter that can’t magically vanish from existence once created. Even if we change its form through burying, burning or some other way, it is inevitable that this transformation process will release harmful substances into our environment. Furthermore, inorganic solid matter such as plastic may eventually break down into smaller pieces but it will forever exist in our world in some form. Without question, the best solution to the trash problem is to simply create less trash. If we are to protect our health and environment, we need to do everything we can to reduce the amount of trash we send to landfills and incinerators. The only way we can achieve this is if we make an effort to reduce waste by using less when possible, reusing items, recycling and composting. And the only way we can get this message across to everyone is to make people aware of the trash problem, show them what we can do to be part of the solution and encourage them to take a stand.