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Chemistry LibreTexts

12.4: Earth's Dwindling Resources

  • Page ID
    152213
  • Learning Objectives

    • Describe the composition and classification of solid waste.
    • List the 3R's of Garbage and its benefits.

    Land Pollution: Solid Wastes

    Municipal solid waste (MSW), commonly known as trash or garbage in the United States and rubbish in Britain, is a waste type consisting of everyday items that are discarded by the public. "Garbage" can also refer specifically to food waste, as in a garbage disposal; the two are sometimes collected separately. In the European Union, the semantic definition is 'mixed municipal waste,' given waste code 20 03 01 in the European Waste Catalog. Although the waste may originate from a number of sources that has nothing to do with a municipality, the traditional role of municipalities in collecting and managing these kinds of waste have produced the particular etymology 'municipal.'

    The composition of municipal solid waste varies greatly from municipality to municipality,[1] and it changes significantly with time. In municipalities which have a well developed waste recycling system, the waste stream mainly consists of intractable wastes such as plastic film and non-recyclable packaging materials. At the start of the 20th century, the majority of domestic waste (53%) in the UK consisted of coal ash from open fires.[2] In developed areas without significant recycling activity it predominantly includes food wastes, market wastes, yard wastes, plastic containers and product packaging materials, and other miscellaneous solid wastes from residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial sources.[3] Most definitions of municipal solid waste do not include industrial wastes, agricultural wastes, medical waste, radioactive waste or sewage sludge.[4] Waste collection is performed by the municipality within a given area. The term residual waste relates to waste left from household sources containing materials that have not been separated out or sent for processing.[5] Waste can be classified in several ways but the following list represents a typical classification:

    • Biodegradable waste: food and kitchen waste, green waste, paper (most can be recycled, although some difficult to compost plant material may be excluded[6])
    • Recyclable materials: paper, cardboard, glass, bottles, jars, tin cans, aluminum cans, aluminium foil, metals, certain plastics, textiles, clothing, tires, batteries, etc.
    • Inert waste: construction and demolition waste, dirt, rocks, debris
    • Electrical and electronic waste (WEEE) - electrical appliances, light bulbs, washing machines, TVs, computers, screens, mobile phones, alarm clocks, watches, etc.
    • Composite wastes: waste clothing, Tetra Pack food and drink cartons, waste plastics such as toys and plastic garden furniture
    • Hazardous waste including most paints, chemicals, tires, batteries, light bulbs, electrical appliances, fluorescent lamps, aerosol spray cans, and fertilizers
    • Toxic waste including pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides
    • Biomedical waste, expired pharmaceutical drugs, etc.

    For example, typical municipal solid waste in China is composed of 55.9% food residue, 8.5% paper, 11.2% plastics, 3.2% textiles, 2.9% wood waste, 0.8% rubber, and 18.4% non-combustibles. The breakdown of municipal waste by material is shown below (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)).

    12G.png
    Figure\(\PageIndex{1}\) Total municipal waste generation by material. Source: US EPA

    The Three R's of Garbage: Reduce, Reuse and Recyle

    Reducing and Reusing Basics

    The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. Making a new product requires a lot of materials and energy - raw materials must be extracted from the earth, and the product must be fabricated then transported to wherever it will be sold. As a result, reduction and reuse are the most effective ways you can save natural resources, protect the environment and save money.

    Benefits of Reducing and Reusing

    • Prevents pollution caused by reducing the need to harvest new raw materials
    • Saves energy
    • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change
    • Helps sustain the environment for future generations
    • Saves money
    • Reduces the amount of waste that will need to be recycled or sent to landfills and incinerators
    • Allows products to be used to their fullest extent

    Ideas on How to Reduce and Reuse

    • Buy used. You can find everything from clothes to building materials at specialized reuse centers and consignment shops. Often, used items are less expensive and just as good as new.
    • Look for products that use less packaging. When manufacturers make their products with less packaging, they use less raw material. This reduces waste and costs. These extra savings can be passed along to the consumer. Buying in bulk, for example, can reduce packaging and save money.
    • Buy reusable over disposable items. Look for items that can be reused; the little things can add up. For example, you can bring your own silverware and cup to work, rather than using disposable items.
    • Maintain and repair products, like clothing, tires and appliances, so that they won't have to be thrown out and replaced as frequently.
    • Borrow, rent or share items that are used infrequently, like party decorations, tools or furniture.

    Recycling Basics

    Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. Recycling can benefit your community and the environment.

    Benefits of Recycling

    • Reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators
    • Conserves natural resources such as timber, water and minerals
    • Increases economic security by tapping a domestic source of materials
    • Prevents pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials
    • Saves energy
    • Supports American manufacturing and conserves valuable resources
    • Helps create jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in the United States

    Recycling Creates Jobs

    EPA released significant findings on the economic benefits of the recycling industry with an update to the national Recycling Economic Information (REI) Study in 2016. This study analyzes the numbers of jobs, wages and tax revenues attributed to recycling. The study found that in a single year, recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for:

    • 757,000 jobs
    • $36.6 billion in wages; and
    • $6.7 billion in tax revenues.

    This equates to 1.57 jobs, $76,000 in wages, and $14,101 in tax revenues for every 1,000 tons of materials recycled.

    Summary

    • Municipal solid waste (MSW), (i.e. trash or garbage in the United States and rubbish in Britain), is a type of waste consisting of everyday items that are discarded by the public.
    • Most definitions of municipal solid waste do not include industrial wastes, agricultural wastes, medical waste, radioactive waste or sewage sludge.
    • Typical classification of waste includes biodegradable wastes, recyclable materials, inert waste, electrical and electronic waste, composite wastes, hazardous wastes, toxic waste, and biomedical wastes.
    • Reducing, reusing, and recycling solid wastes reduces the amount of waste in landfills and incinerators and promotes safer and cleaner environment.

    Contributors and Attributions

    Marisa Alviar-Agnew (Sacramento City College)

    US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)

    Wikipedia

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