We all produce garbage. Usually we don’t think about it. We just throw it away. But the world is running out of room to store all the garbage that is piling up. For instance, the eight million people in the city of Manila in the Philippines produce 4,000 tons of garbage every day!
Multiply that by thousands of other cities and you can picture just how big the garbage problem is.
Burning garbage pollutes the air. And the ashes are often toxic.
Sometimes garbage is dumped into rivers and lakes and pollutes the water.
Often garbage is buried in the ground. Buried garbage usually contains toxic substances that leak into the soil and pollute the water supply.
Reducing garbage: The best solution is to reduce the garbage we make in the first place. For example, when shopping, try to buy products that don’t have much packaging. As soon as you unwrap something the package becomes “instant” garbage. When you choose a product keep in mind how much garbage it will make. For instance, paper diapers and paper towels have to be thrown away after they are used.
They become garbage. But cloth can be washed and used over and over, so it’s often a better choice.
It’s important to remember that there are ways we can reduce the amount of garbage we make.
One way to help the environment is to reuse something instead of throwing it out. For example, you can flatten empty aluminum cans and reuse them as sheet metal. You can make furniture out of scrap wood and use well-washed glass jars to store foods, carpentry and office supplies. Use your imagination and your reward will be a cleaner world.
Recycling is one way to make less garbage. Let’s take glass as an example. When glass is recycled, it is washed in special factories, broken into pieces and then melted down into “new” glass ready to be made into something else. So, that glass bottle you drank from yesterday could end up as a new glass jar tomorrow. This is recycling.
Check to see if there is a recycling factory where you live. If there is, you and your neighbours can collect and bring in different types of garbage. These factories will make them into new material. Some things you can recycle are: glass bottles, metal and tin cans, newspapers, office paper, and some plastics. Some factories even pay money for these items, so it’s worth finding out if there’s a recycling factory nearby.
You will be cleaning the environment, and maybe getting a little bonus for yourself!
An excellent way to deal with leftovers from the yard or kitchen is to make compost. Put kitchen and garden waste such as fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, egg shells, manure, sawdust, grass and plant leaves in a pile in your yard. Mix in some soil. Water the pile to keep it moist. Turn it every few days to let air in. In a short time the waste will break down and turn into natural fertilizer. You’ll know it’s ready when the pile is half the size it was when you started. The compost should be dark brown and fall apart easily when you pick it up. You can then use it as fertilizer for your garden.
So composting is good for two reasons. One, it makes good, cheap fertilizer, and two, it reduces the amount of garbage that goes into overcrowded dumps.
Some kinds of garbage are more dangerous than others. Dangerous garbage is called hazardous waste. Hazardous waste is chemical garbage such as batteries, floor cleaning liquid and insecticides. Some hazardous waste is left over from factories or mines. Some examples are ash from incinerators, sewage sludge, mining or smelting waste. Some plastics produce a toxic gas when they are burned or recycled. This type of waste can seriously damage the environment.
Some hazardous waste is poisonous. If you touch it, this kind of waste can get into your body and cause cancer or other diseases. It can seriously harm unborn babies. It can also get into the air, water, and soil, and kill fish and animals. Poisonous wastes comes from such things as cleaning products, rat poison, and pesticides. This type of waste usually has a picture of a skeleton head on the container.
Some hazardous waste dissolves almost anything it touches, even human flesh. This type of waste is called corrosive waste and comes from such things as batteries, drain and oven cleaners, and ammonia cleaners. It usually has a picture of a skeleton hand on the container.
Some hazardous waste can catch fire and release toxic fumes into the air. Examples are gasoline, oils, and paint cleaners. This type of waste is called flammable waste and it usually has a picture of fire on the container.
Some hazardous waste can blow up when it is mixed with other chemicals or if it is dropped on the ground. It is called explosive waste.
Explosive chemicals are found in spray cans and gasoline and lighter fluid.
Explosive waste usually has a picture of a bursting ball on the container.
If a container has any of these pictures on it, handle it very carefully. It once contained dangerous material and might still have some waste in it. You have to be careful with all waste because you can’t be sure what the empty metal can or plastic jug you get from a dumpsite once had in it. Never burn these containers because the heat will release poisonous gases and smoke into the air. The gases and smoke could hurt you and the environment.
Governments around the world are slowly forcing industries to make less hazardous waste. In the meantime, we can do our part to handle hazardous waste properly. Never pour toxic liquid, such as used motor oil, paint an pesticides, into rivers or lakes or down your own sink. Store them separately and find the closest factory that will take them and get rid of them safely. This is very important for your health and for the health of the environment.
Hazardous waste cannot be easily recycled. Because the safe ways of getting rid of it are quite expensive, hazardous waste is often buried deep in the ground in containers. But these containers can leak over time and the dangerous material inside can get into the soil. So, the best way to reduce hazardous waste is to use fewer chemicals in daily activities.
- This script was written by Chris Szuskiewicz, a freelance writer in Toronto, Canada. It was reviewed by Lois Corbett, Coordinator of the Toronto Environmental Network in Toronto and by Matthew Bramley, Toxics Campaigner, Greenpeace, Montreal.
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