Escalating Threat of Solid Waste Pollution

Solid Waste Pollution

Escalating Threat of Solid Waste Pollution 

-Dr. Arvind Singh

Solid waste pollution refers to the dumping of solid waste materials (non-biodegradable) on the surface of earth causing the problem to human beings in one or other way. The solid waste includes plastics, plastic cans, glass bottles, crockeries, metal cans, aluminium foils and other packing materials that are utilized and thereafter thrown as garbage. These materials accumulate at public places and cause hindrance in daily life. In addition to these, are also other used things like automobile spares, machines, cycle parts, etc. that are thrown as junk. The waste produced during construction and demolition of building materials, sludge, skeletons of dead animals and heaps of crop residues also substantially contribute to solid waste.

Solid waste pollution is when the environment is filled with non-biodegradable and non-compostable biodegradable wastes that are capable of emitting greenhouse gases, toxic fumes, and particulate matters as they accumulate in open and fills. These wastes are also capable of leaching organic or chemical compositions to contaminate the ground where such waste lay in accumulation. Solid wastes carelessly thrown in streets, highways, and alleyways can cause pollution when they are carried off by rainwater run-offs or by flood water to the main streams, as these contaminating residues will reach larger bodies of water.

Solid waste pollution has become a major problem in developed countries of North America and Europe. According to an estimated every day the city of New York produces 2500 truckload (about 25,000 tonnes) of trash like beer and coke cans, bottles, paper, plastics, and other domestic garbage.

Solid Waste Pollution in India:

In a developing country like India also several million tonnes of solid wastes are dumped along highways and other places in Metropolitan cities like Delhi, Bombay, Kolkata, and Chennai. In recent days, the solid waste pollution has become a serious problem on hill stations of India. The tourists visiting the hill stations throw solid wastes like metal cans, aluminium foils, plastic containers, etc. at visiting sites, as a result of which large quantities of solid waste garbage is accumulated which not only decreases the beauty of the site but causes a nuisance to the visitors.

In India plastics as a solid waste pollutant has become a threatening problem in the last few decades. Plastic is immortal because it is non-biodegradable. Hence, the disposal of plastic wastes is a serious problem. The plastics are used on a large scale for the packing of purchased market goods especially grocery items, fruits, vegetables, etc. After their use, they are thrown as garbage on public and other places. These plastics are often consumed by grazing herbivores like buffaloes and cow which block the intestinal tract leading to their death. Besides these, plastics choke the urban drainage system and dirty water swoops over the localities and road causing mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever, chikungunya, malaria, and lymphatic filariasis. Plastics have been rightly termed as 'urban scare'.

In third world nations like India, the problem of solid waste pollution is expected to increase manifold with an increase in population. Moreover, developing countries like India also lack efficient waste disposal techniques and waste disposal also proceeds at a slow pace.

Management of Solid Wastes:

Solid waste management becomes inevitable for the maintenance of a clean environment. An integrated waste management strategy includes the following four main components. 

(1) Source reduction: Source reduction is one of the fundamental ways to reduce waste. This can be achieved by utilizing less material while making a product, reusing products as site, designing or packaging to reduce their quantity. On an individual level, we can reduce the use of unnecessary items while shopping, buy items with minimal packaging, avert buying items and also avoid asking for plastic carry bags. 

(2) Waste collection: The common method of collection is by covered truck. Loading and transportation take much time to reach the dumping site. Several new devices and methods have been proposed to cut collection cost. These include the following:

Garbage grinders reduce the quantity of garbage in solid waste. If such grinders are used, this cuts the frequency of collection in communities.

Pneumatic pipes are installed in small communities mostly in Japan and Sweden. The solid waste is ground at home and sucked through underground lines.

Transfer stations are applicable to larger communities. The system involves several stations scattered around a city to which collection trucks bring the waste. The drive to the nearest station is fairly short. At the transfer, station bulldozer crams this solid waste into larger vans which in turn take the material to the final disposal.

(3) Recycling: Recycling is reusing some components of the waste that may have some economic value. Recycling has readily visible benefits like the conserving resources, reducing the energy used during manufacture, and reducing pollution levels. Some materials, such as aluminium and steel, can be recycled many times. Metal, paper, glass, and plastics are recyclable. Mining of new aluminum is expensive and, hence, recycled aluminium has a strong market and plays an important role in the aluminium industry. 

Paper recycling can also help in the conservation of the forests, as it takes about 17 trees to make one tonne of paper. Crushed glass (cullet) reduces the energy required to manufacture new glass by 50%. Cullet lowers the temperature requirement of the glass making process thus conserving energy and reducing air pollution.

(4) Disposal: Disposal of solid waste is done most commonly through sanitary landfills, incineration, and pyrolysis.

(i) Sanitary landfills differ from the open area dumps. The open dumps are simply dumping places while sanitary landfills are engineered operations, designed and operated according to acceptable standards. The basic principle of a landfill operation is to deposit the solid waste, compact it with heavy machinery, and cover the material with at least 6 inches of dirt at the end of each day's operation and a final cover of 2 feet when the area is full.

The landfill operation is, in fact, a biological method of waste treatment in which under anaerobic condition, organics are degraded to more stable forms. The end products are mainly gases like carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia and a small quantity of hydrogen sulfide. These are allowed to escape through small vents.

(ii) Incineration is the process of burning solid waste in a properly designed furnace under suitable temperature and operating conditions. Incineration is a chemical process, in which the combustible portion of the waste is combined with oxygen forming carbon dioxide and water, which are released into the atmosphere. This chemical reaction called oxidation results in the release of heat. For complete oxidation, the waste must be mixed with appropriate volumes of air at a temperature of about 815oC for about one hour. Incineration reduces the municipal solid waste by about 90% in volume and 75% in weight.

(iii) Pyrolysis is the combustion in the absence of oxygen. Hydrocarbons such as cellulose, plastic rubber, which are chain compounds, are the main bulk of the solid waste. On exposure to high temperature, these are broken down into gases like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, acetylene, ethylene and methane and liquids like tar light oil and liquid and water-soluble distillate and solid char. Some of the gases have a high heating value. Hence, pyrolytic methods can be either used for only the waste disposal or modified to generate alternative fuel also. Pyrolysis reduces the volume and also produces stable products.

What are Solid Waste Processing Stations?

In this system, the total solid waste is put through a processing plant. Thereafter, the solid waste is shredded and the lighter fraction (plastic, paper, etc) is separated in an air classifier, the heavy materials drop to the bottom. Magnetic drum next picks up the magnetic materials and are used to remove the now pulverized glass. The metals are sold for reprocessing and the lighter fraction is often burnt for heat or power.


Conclusively it can be said that escalating threat of solid waste pollution in developing and developed nations of the world is a matter of serious concern and needs attention to control this type of pollution by proper management of the solid wastes through integrated waste management strategy. Moreover, in India, there is an urgent need to put a complete ban on the use of plastics.
Dr. Arvind Singh is M. Sc. and Ph. D. in Botany with an area of specialization in Ecology. He is a dedicated Researcher having more than four dozen published Research Papers in the Journals of National and International repute. His main area of Research is Restoration of Mined Lands. However, he has also conducted Research on the Vascular Flora of Banaras Hindu University-Main Campus, India.

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