Sep 222008
Authors: Cathy Wilson The Post Ohio University

(UWIRE) – When it comes to waste, the United States has a history of literally burying its problems – a practice that is a shortcut rather than a solution.

While many waste solutions place the problem underground because it’s a convenient storage space, it also encourages an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. While shoving the waste aside for the short term is convenient, ignoring the long term invites more trouble in the future.

Landfills are solid-waste depositories where waste is put in a plastic- and clay-lined cavity in the ground, compacted and covered with soil daily and capped and covered with two feet of soil and vegetation.

When a landfill runs out of space and closes, it’s common to turn it into a golf course or ski slope.

Landfills have redeeming qualities – for example, the methane emitted from the cells of trash can be harnessed as electricity – but that doesn’t completely offset the negative effects of burying the problem.

Because the waste is beneath the surface, we can’t see that the cells of trash are so tightly compacted and void of oxygen that biodegradation is occurring very slowly.

When a carrot is still orange on the inside after 10 years, that’s a sign the process is barely inching along.

While using a closed landfill for recreational activity reuses the acreage, it has the simultaneous effect of removing the issue of waste disposal from the public consciousness.

The landscape doesn’t illustrate all the trash we create, and it neglects to address what happens when we run out of underground space for our waste. The next step is probably to send it to the developing world.

Nuclear power has the same obstacle in respect to waste disposal. Nuclear power plants generate electricity using nuclear fission – splitting an atom into two – to heat water into steam that drives a turbine generator.

The process of nuclear fission results in the creation of low-level and high-level radioactive waste.

Equipment or clothing that has been contaminated is classified as low-level, while used nuclear reactor fuel is labeled as high-level.

Low-level waste takes hundreds of years to reach safe levels of radiation, while high-level radioactive waste won’t reach safe levels for tens of thousands of years. After being monitored and cooled for several years, it is transported and placed in concrete structures.

Nuclear waste disposal is a concrete (no pun intended) and current topic that needs to be discussed by the people who are so adamant about its promise. Some propose burying the radioactive waste deep underground in places like Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but the problem is that Nevada residents aren’t clamoring to have such waste in their backyards or seeping into their groundwater.

Carbon sequestration is another example of diverting the byproducts of our consumption underground. Carbon sequestration can be either underground or terrestrial, but the idea is to inject the carbon released by facilities like coal-fired power plants into the ground to be absorbed by soil or trees or to remain isolated from the atmosphere.

Soil and trees can only hold so much carbon dioxide, and the process of sequestering carbon actually uses more energy, with coal-fired power plants using more coal to fuel the sequestration, according to Science News.

While carbon emissions went down, nitrogen and sulfur oxide emissions increased.

Although carbon sequestration is a thoughtful attempt to try to deal with carbon dioxide, it is a shortsighted one that operates on the idea that there is an unlimited space for the byproducts of human consumption.

Like many of the ideas for waste disposal, it operates under the pretense that eliminating the problem from sight will eliminate any of its side effects.

The answers are out there, but as always, they needed to be recognized, researched and developed – which takes funding.

Renewable energy is within reach, composting already exists and simply reducing waste and energy use individually doesn’t hurt either.

It’s irresponsible to rely on burying our problems today knowing that future generations will be haunted by them and forced to fix them tomorrow.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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