Landfills around the world contribute to an estimated eleven percent (11%) of all global methane emissions, with methane being a climate amplifier and up to 25 times stronger than CO2 (carbon dioxide) as a greenhouse gas on a longer term. In the first decades of being emitted into Earth’s atmosphere, methane is more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, causing it to actually warm Earth’s climate more than carbon dioxide.
The fact that landfills are such a large source of anthropogenic methane emissions on a global scale suggests that there is a need and potential to a) reduce the amount of overall waste b) improved waste management practices, including recycling and transforming waste into energy. Recycling and energy production from waste of course have to be in line with national policies, whereby communities and governments are responsible for creating and maintaining sustainable waste management policies and procedures, allowing for completely new kinds of businesses to emerge and to thrive in a world where waste can today be regarded as a currency.
While some countries have decided to completely ban plastic bags in order to reduce plastic waste and it ending up especially in our oceans, for instance in Finland plastic recycling was not set up until 2016. Today, around one fifth (20%) of all plastic waste in Finland is being recycled, with a target of increasing the amount of recycled plastic within the upcoming few years.
I first ran into Plastic Bank on Twitter a few years ago. Plastic Bank is an organization dedicated to stopping ocean plastic ending up in our oceans by turning waste into currency, killing two birds with one stone by contributing both to ending poverty and preventing harmful plastic waste ending up in our oceans.
Of course, plastic is not the only kind of waste on our planet, but it is one of the worst: it can take up to one thousand (1.000) years for plastic bottles to biodegrade, with the average time being 450 years. Think about that before throwing plastic garbage (or, any garbage at all) into the nature!
The average decomposition rates of debris/garbage varies largely: glass bottles thrown into water sources or nature in general is undefined, or can take up to one million (1.000.000) years to decompose, followed by fishing lines (600 years), plastic beverage bottles (450 years), disposable diapers (450 years), aluminium cans (up to 200 years), foamed plastic buoys (80 years), foamed plastic cups (50 years), rubber-boot soles (up to 80 years), tin cans (50 years), leather (50 years), nylon fabric (up to 40 years), plastic bags (up to 20 years), cigarette butts (up to five years), wool socks (up to five years), and plywood (up to three years). (NOAA Marine Debris Program 2019; U.S. National Park Service 2019). It is estimated that more than eight million tons of plastic end up in our oceans alone each year, and cleaning all the waste from our oceans is not as simple as from elsewhere in our environment.
Nevertheless, The Ocean CleanUp is an ambitious project determined to clean up our world’s oceans from all the waste through advanced technologies. It will definitely be exciting to see how this demanding project turns out.
The World Bank estimates that urban solid waste will increase by 70% by 2025, from some 1.3 billion tonnes currently to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025, increasing the global costs of waste (management) significantly. This huge increase in overall waste worldwide does include a number of risks, both for health and the environment, but it also gives us the opportunity to create and develop improved waste management practices, recycling, and an effort to create better solutions for instance in terms of packaging materials and overall design.
The complete report published by The World Bank in March 2012, “What a Waste – A Global Review of Solid Waste Management” can be downloaded here. In brief, the report highlights key issues such as municipal solid waste management being the most important service any city provides, with poorly managed waste having immense impacts on health, the environment overall, and the economy. It identifies non-sustainable development including water and wastewater (treatment), greenhouse gas emissions, poverty and slums, social unrest, air pollution, and solid waste. Landfilling in low-income countries/low-technology sites, according to the report, is usually open dumping of wastes, leading to high pollution in nearby aquifers and water bodies, waste regularly being burned, with significant health consequences for local residents and staff.
High-income OECD countries alone account for almost half (44-46%) of total worldwide waste generation, with high-income OECD countries also having the highest waste collection rates. What ends up in landfills worldwide has large impacts on our environment, as a result of which advanced recycling and waste management are significant factors for minimizing both environmental and health concerns.
Learn more by watching “Landfill Methane Emissions and Oxidation”, published by Illinois Sustainable Technology Center:
What conclusions can we draw from this?
- Your consumption habits matter and have an impact! Demand better products, and reduce your amount of waste.
- Packaging materials make a significant difference. Businesses/producers/retailers and consumers can influence what kinds of packaging materials are being used.
- With a constantly growing world population, it is essential to start limiting the amount of waste produced per capita in different countries. Otherwise, one option would be to charge for any additional waste through either waste collection costs per household/business or higher taxation on non-environmentally friendly packaging materials/products.
- Improved recycling and overall waste management practices around the world.
What else can you think of? Please share your ideas and thoughts by commenting on this article! You may also want to read my previous article “How Environmentally Friendly Is Biomass Production?” to find out more about how waste is being managed in for instance a country like Sweden. Today, we do have similar waste management practices in Finland as well.