Traditional methods of waste disposal have proven to be ineffective and have caused harmful effects on the environment. The most popular and inexpensive way to get rid of garbage is burial, but burying your problems does not necessarily mean getting rid of them. Landfill sites pose as severe ecological threats as these mass garbage dump yards overflow with trash and frequently contaminate our air, soil and water with hazardous wastes. About 400 million tons of hazardous wastes are generated each year1. A large-scale release of these materials can cause thousands of deaths and may poison the environment for many years. For example many industrial companies around the world cannot afford to enforce the strict pollution regulations set by many developed countries. This usually forces these types of companies to move to developing countries where pollution regulations are very lenient. These developing countries knowingly accept environmentally hazardous companies usually because they are in desperate need of employment. The harmful effects of these companies were clearly illustrated in the 1960s and 1970s when residents living near Minamata Bay, Japan, developed nervous disorders, tremors, and paralysis in a mysterious epidemic. The root was later found to be a local industry that had released mercury, a highly toxic element, into Minamata Bay. The disaster had claimed the lives of 400 people1. Since 1970 you can bet that a lot more than 400 people have died as a result of waste disposal. If the type of waste disposal were cheaper and effective we wouldn't have to deal with waste problems, which still plague mankind today.
Innovative technology along with redefining our outlook on waste will essentially be the key to eliminating mountains of rubbish. Waste should not be seen as worthless junk, but more as a valuable resource, which could benefit people, industries and the environment. Many industries are picking up on this economical concept and changing the way they do business. These industries (commonly referred to as "eco-industrial parks") demonstrate how much can be gained by recycling and resource sharing. Within each park there are several industries working together in sharing the production and use of many costly resources. With all industries striving to achieve the common goal of maximizing revenue and reducing waste, one company's waste becomes another's resource. One method is where excess heat from a power plant warms nearby homes and agricultural greenhouses. These industries also utilize efficient recycling techniques in order to reuse valuable material. For example the sulphur scraped from the smokestacks of power plants is sold to dry wall companies. There are limits to how many lives you can give a pile of debris. In the long run, we have to reduce the amount of material we use and generate. 2
Some progress has been made over the past few years as aluminium cans and plastic soda bottles have become thinner, but significant amount of work remains to be done to actually make a noticeable difference. This is where nano(micro)technology comes into play. This emerging field employs the idea of creating products from scratch; from the smallest molecule to the finished product. This precise process of developing products is revolutionizing traditional drilling, sawing, etching, milling and other fabrication techniques to more efficient and recyclable methods. Where nanotechnology is helping us build smaller products, computer technology is helping us eliminate the need for wasteful products. With the rise of the communications era in recent years there is less need to travel. People can now go to a meeting without leaving their home with video conferencing or talk to someone in the Himalayas with a cellular phone and do just about everything else including work, shop, search and communicate through the World Wide Web. With all this, there is less reliance on cars, which translates into less harmful carbon monoxide emissions produced by cars. By using these advanced techniques of dealing with waste we would be reducing overfilled landfill sites and saving valuable resources along with our invaluable environment. 2
Waste prevention, and source reduction essentially hold the key to solving our severe waste problems. Using methods such as eco-industrial parks, computer or nano technology to reduce waste would help eliminate the need for mountainous landfill sites and enormous pollution clean up costs. Entering the new millennium as an advanced species we must solve the problems whose answers lie before us and strive to solve the ones without answers. We have the formula to waste reduction now all we have to do is solve it.
works cited: Statistics found in Encarta Encyclopaedia (pollution). www.encarta.com
2 Information found in Maclean's magazine article "Can we make Garbage Disappear?"