Solid Waste


In this video Paul Andersen explains the basics of solid waste including trends over time, basic composition, and disposal. A brief description of the three R’s (reuse, reduce, and recycle) is included as ways to minimize waste. Legislation including RCRA and CERCLA (the Superfund Act) were enacted to deal with hazardous waste. A description of basic landfill construction is also included.

Transcript Provided by YouTube:

00:04
Hi. It’s Mr. Andersen and this is AP environmental science video 31. It is on solid waste. Generally
00:09
in the natural world waste is not wasted. These two dung beetles are fighting over this
00:13
ball of elephant dung as a food resource. And though most of human’s history we really
00:18
have not produced that much solid waste. This changed post industrialization, especially
00:22
after World War II. We started to live in a throw away society, where we produce waste
00:27
that we do not reuse, recycle or fix when it is broken. And so we are filling up landfills
00:32
with waste that the natural world does not want. These seagulls might we some of the
00:36
food, but the rest of if will lay in this landfill for thousands of years into the future.
00:40
And so MSW or municipal solid waste, you should understand what are the major types of waste.
00:45
It is generally going to be paper, plastics, wood, yard clippings, metal, things like that.
00:51
There are a couple of types you should be familiar. E-waste. That is going to be our
00:54
computers, phones and televisions are we throw those away. And then hazardous wastes. This
00:59
is going to be waste that causes and impact in human illness or changes that degrade the
01:04
environment. And we have regulations in place. Two that you should be familiar with are RCRA,
01:10
the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and then CERCLA otherwise known as Superfund
01:15
Act. And that is a way to clean up huge areas of hazardous waste. That solid waste is eventually
01:20
disposed of either in a landfill or incinerated. But the key point is how do we reduce the
01:26
amount of solid waste? How do we minimize that? The one that you are probably familiar
01:29
with is the idea of the three Rs. We should reduce it, reuse it, recycle it. And a type
01:34
of that is going to be composting. And so municipal solid waste, if we look over the
01:39
last half of century in the US, it has been increasing, from 88 million tons of MSW in
01:45
1960 to around 251 today. So you can see it is increasing over time. And it is starting
01:51
to level off as we start to recycle more of that. And this is per capita, per person how
01:55
much waste we are producing. You should be familiar with what most of that waste is.
01:59
This is from the EPA. It is generally going to be paper, food, yard trimmings, plastics,
02:04
rubber, metals. 251 million tons per year. If we look at how much is actually disposed
02:09
of, it is around 65 percent of that. This is to scale. And the reason why is that we
02:14
are recycling a lot of it. We are recycling especially the paper, the yard trimmings and
02:18
metal. Composting a lot of those yard trimmings. E-waste is a type of this waste. It is going
02:23
to be the electronics. We have put some of this in landfills. Unfortunately a lot of
02:28
it moves to developing countries where they recycle the parts of it and there are not
02:33
health standards in place so it is really dangerous. And then we have hazardous waste.
02:36
So chemicals that have been produced. Oven cleaner for example in your house would be
02:40
an example of a hazardous waste. And so we do not just bury that. Because it gets into
02:45
the ground supply. And so we have regulations that make sure we are storing it properly.
02:50
And that legislation could be broken down into RCRA and CERCLA. RCRA is going to be
02:54
the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. And then Superfund Act. If we look at RCRA
03:00
that is going to regulate hazardous materials from cradle to grave. From the point it is
03:05
created to when it is eventually stored. And the way that works is we leverage taxes on
03:09
the industries that produce these hazardous wastes. And we can use that to help store
03:13
them. And so for example that oven cleaner in your house that you bought for 5 bucks
03:18
is hazardous waste. And so when you are done with it, if you do not use it, it is going
03:21
to go to a place in your city where they can control that as a hazardous waste. The Superfund
03:26
Act started with a very famous contamination, it is called Love Canal. This is in Niagara
03:31
Falls, New York. And so back in the 1940s and 1950s a chemical company had been dumping
03:36
hazardous wastes and simply covering it. And eventually that land was sold off to a school.
03:41
Houses were built on top of it. We started to get birth defects, miscarriages, huge increases
03:47
in illness. And they finally could trace it back to this. And so what the Superfund Act
03:52
does is look at areas where we have huge contamination due to hazardous wastes. All the red ones
03:57
on here are Superfund sites. The green ones are ones that are done. And the yellow ones
04:01
are proposed Superfund sites. And so what we are doing is cleaning up the hazardous
04:05
waste and holding those responsible, if they are still around, those people who caused
04:09
the contamination. And so how do we minimize the amount of waste? We do not want to dispose
04:14
of it. And so we can think of it like this. From the least favorite to the most favorite.
04:19
So we can dispose of it or we can get some of the energy from it. But we want to recycle
04:23
it if we can. We want to reuse it if we can and reduce it in the first place. So if we
04:28
kind of break through those top three, in recycling, as this material goes to the landfill,
04:35
we have people that can remove some of that recycling. Stuff that we can use again. Now
04:39
that is pretty energy intensive. And so if we can us do the sorting before it actually
04:44
gets there, that is helpful. We have what is called closed loop recycling. That is where
04:48
we take something like aluminum cans and we recycle that back to make more aluminum cans.
04:54
And then we have open loop recycling. And that is when we take something like plastic
04:58
bottles and we can use that to make more plastic bottles or we can use it make something like
05:03
a polar fleece jacket. We also want to recycle nutrients. So composting in your backyard
05:09
is a way to reduce the amount that goes to the landfill. And even at a large industrial
05:14
scale. What we want to do is take those nutrients and put them back into the environment. We
05:19
can reuse things. So this is a giant coil, we had electrical coil that was wrapped around
05:24
it and it is now used as a table. So if we can use things again. If you can give it to
05:28
somebody else. Give it to Goodwill. You can sell it through EBay or Craig’s List, then
05:33
we can reuse this material. And at the best we want to not even make it to begin with.
05:38
And so if you have a bag that you take to the supermarket, then you do not have to choose
05:41
do I want plastic or do I want paper? You are not using either of those. And we can
05:45
do it on an industrial level as well. So Subaru for example is one of the first companies
05:50
to go to a zero landfill policy. They are not putting anything in landfills. How do
05:54
they do that? They are recycling. They are reusing materials. And the little bit that
05:59
is actually produced at the end, they are incinerating that to produce energy. And so
06:04
this is what one of those plants looks like. We can burn that garbage or that unused garbage
06:09
to produce a little bit of energy instead of not using it at all. And so if it eventually
06:14
moves to the point where we have to dispose of it, we have to make a landfill properly.
06:18
How do you do that? You dig a big hole. And then we are going to line it with plastic,
06:22
or better yet, clay. Clay is not going to allow material to leach out. And then it is
06:26
also going to grab a lot of those metals just due to its charge. We then put a leach-aid
06:31
system in it. So it is a bunch of pipes. And so any water that leaks out is going to be
06:35
recovered. Sometimes it is recycled back again. We then fill it up with garbage. And then
06:40
we are going to cover it with soil. We want to make sure that we compact it the whole
06:44
way so we do not have a lot of decomposition going on in there. We do not want a lot of
06:48
water to move down there. We also build pipes in there because methane gas is going to be
06:52
produced and we want to get rid of that as well. aAnd so did you learn the following?
06:56
Do you know what solid waste is? The worst type is going to be hazardous waste. We have
07:01
RCRA and the Superfund Act to kind of regulate that. We want to minimize it. We can reduce
07:06
it. We can reuse it, recycle it and compost it. And then if we have to we can incinerate
07:11
it. That is called waste to energy system. And then the last kind of ditch effort is
07:16
to put it in a landfill. But we want to make sure that we construct it properly.
07:19
So that is solid waste. And I hope that was helpful.


This post was previously published on YouTube.

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