Impacts of Waste on Climate Change

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Climate change is caused by human activities that result in the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Thus, climate change is caused by greenhouse gas accumulation (Hornsey & Fielding, 2020). Although the most cited cause of climate change includes human activities involving burning fossil fuels and deforestation, waste adversely impacts climate change. Waste is an inevitable bi-product arising from human activities both at home and in the industries. Waste can be biodegradable or non-biodegradable, with each type having a different impact on the environment based on the type of disposal. The focus of this paper is, however, on the solid waste impact on climate change.

Improper waste management for organic and non-organic wastes contributes to the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. An increase in population has resulted in more waste being produced. The increasing waste has resulted in different waste management and disposal strategies such as landfills, burning, recycling, and use. Although the measures provide an immediate solution to the waste, Onyanta (2016) notes that improper management can adversely affect the climate. For instance, as Hornsey and Fielding (2020) pointed out, greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, contribute to climate change. In the course of waste management, gases can be produced. For instance, the decomposition of biodegradable waste leads to the creation of methane and carbon dioxide. Methane is produced when there is no air in the decomposition process, while carbon dioxide is produced when there is air in circulation.

Greenhouse gasses produced in waste management either through landfills or uncompacted dumpsites alter the natural atmospheric pressure. For example, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) (2009) reported that methane from landfills accounts for 1.7% of the total emissions in the pacific islands region. On the other hand, inorganic waste, if burned, can produce greenhouse gasses. Therefore, it is worth noting that the organic waste sent to landfills or dumpsites contributes to global warming. US Environmental Program Agency estimates that methane from landfills contributes approximately 4% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Methane has a huge impact on the climate compared to carbon dioxide; it is estimated that it is 21 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (Ackerman, 2010). On the other hand, wastes allowed to decompose in uncompacted sites decompose aerobically, releasing carbon dioxide. Therefore, solid waste management contributes to upsetting the natural atmospheric balance hence increasing global warming.

Waste also affects climate change indirectly through the energy used in transportation. For instance, if wastes are transferred over a long distance using fossil-powered vehicles, the energy savings associated with proper disposal mechanisms such as recycling and reuse are offset. Also, recycled waste transported far distances consume a lot of energy generated by burning fossil fuels, and hence carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Ackerman (2010) cites an example of transporting recycled glass by truck from Sydney to Pert would undo the greenhouse benefits realized from recycling.

Whereas waste increases global warming through the production of greenhouse gasses, proper waste disposal such as recycling can reduce the adverse effects associated with landfilling. Research shows recycling reduces the greenhouse gases that could be produced in the manufacturing of the materials. In the investigation of the impact of recycling, Ackerman (2010) points out that recycling leads to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Through recycling, methane, which is more potent than carbon dioxide, is produced.

In conclusion, waste has an adverse impact on the climate if improperly managed. As evidenced in the discussion, the management processes result in the production of greenhouse gases and hence lead to an increase in the global warming phenomenon.

References

Ackerman, F. (2010). Waste management and climate change. Local Environment5(2), 223-229. https://doi.org/10.1080/13549830050009373.

Hornsey, M. J., & Fielding, K. S. (2020). Understanding (and reducing) inaction on climate change. Social Issues and Policy Review14(1), 3-35. https://doi.org/10.1111/sipr.12058.

Onyanta, A. (2016). Cities, municipal solid waste management, and climate change: Perspectives from the South. Geography Compass10(12), 499-513. https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12299.

Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). (2009). Factsheet-Waste and climate. https://www.sprep.org/climate_change/PYCC/documents/ccwaste.pdf.

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