The Effects of Improper Garbage Disposal

A large pile of plastic bottles at a recycling facility.
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Tossing everyday items into the trash can seem like second nature to many people. If you are implementing recycling techniques into your lifestyle, you are taking a positive step toward helping the environment. notes that in the U.S. alone, over 230 million tons of trash is produced each year. Less than 25 percent of that waste is recycled and the rest ends up in landfills, incinerated or in ditches and roadsides. Improper garbage disposal isn’t just an eyesore; it poses a serious threat to nature.

Soil Contamination

It is important to learn the basics of recycling so that the waste that does end up in landfills can be disposed of properly. Plastics, metals, papers and certain types of glass can all be recycled at your local recycling center. If you take the time to send these items to recyclable locations, the items can be reused and returned to consumers. They won’t end up as trash or hurting the environment. If recyclables are placed into the ground they can potentially contaminate the surrounding soil. The Western Courier shares with readers that as plastic water bottles break down they can release DEHA, a type of carcinogen that can cause reproductive problems, liver issues and weight loss. This type of chemical can leach into the soil and cause contamination that can reach plant and animal life as well as water sources. Newspapers or paper that contains ink can be toxic to the soil as well. If the garbage is dumped or not contained properly in a landfill it will contaminate the surrounding ground.

Air Contamination

When disposing of garbage that contains harmful chemicals such as bleach, acid or oil it is important that it is disposed of in approved containers and labeled correctly. Paper, plastics and other materials that are burned can contaminate the air when they are burned. Over time the chemicals can build up in the ozone layer. If they contain toxic chemicals like dioxin they can reach the air that people breathe and cause a public health risk. Garbage that is disposed of improperly can also begin to release methane gases. According to the Energy Information Administration, these gases are greenhouse gasses that can destroy the earth’s ozone layer and contribute to significant climate changes or global warming.

Animals and Marine Life

Humans are not the only ones affected by improper garbage disposal—animals are too. Conservation International notes that garbage dumping and discharging raw or untreated sewage can threaten marine life and animals who come in contact with the water. When waste forms a cluster or algal bloom, the area can suffocate and contaminate sea bottom habitats such as coral and fish reducing their numbers. This contamination not only destroys their habitat it can also affect human consumption as fish and shellfish that were feasting off of contaminated areas reach fishermen and are caught for human consumption. Old fishing lures, plastic bottles, rope, Styrofoam, cigarette butts and fishing lines can be consumed by marine animals leading to the death of millions each year according to Conservation International.

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