Land Pollution

We're serious about land pollution, because it can cause some devastating effects on our ecosystems and natural habitats, and also result in health problems in ourselves. We have written a guide to land pollution giving you examples of the types of pollution we see on our lands and explain why it is no good for us or for our environments. Land pollution comes in many different guises and sometimes you may be surprised to see just how much we pollute and what the affects of this pollution can be. We hope you like the guide, if you have any comments or would like to recommend any additions please contact us here.

Landfill Pollution

landfill site picture

Make no mistake, landfill is pollution. We are adding waste products to the land which would not otherwise be there. What's worse is that some are potentially toxic or hazardous to us and our immediate environments, some do not biodegrade very easily or quickly over time, and some contain very useful materials to us which we really should be conserving and recycling for further use. There has undoubtedely been improvements in the amount we do recycle, but incredibly we still throw away more than we recycle. Now we all realise that can't go on forever.

Some Stats

The latest statistics we have been able to find aptly demonstrate that there is still some way to go until we can claim to be a greener, cleaner generation. In England, according to DEFRA, for the latest financial year 2010-2011, 11.4 million tonnes of local authority collected waste was sent to landfill sites. That's an awful lot of waste to bury in the ground! In the USA the latest figures we can find from the EPA are from 2009. They show that Americans produced around 243 million tons of waste for landfill. These are huge figures and represent just one year and two countries! Do you know how much is sent to landfill in your country? Do you ever wonder where they actually dump it!? Do you ever think 'hey, hang on, how can we keep burying all this rubbish we are producing?'

There is more. The English DEFRA summary shows that, in England, the amount of household waste produced was 449kg per person. Of this, 185kg was recycled, composted or reused, which sounds fairly impressive, and is certainly a big improvement on 10 years ago thanks to local authority recycling schemes. That is just over 41% of household waste, however it still leaves an average of 264kg of waste per person that was sent to landfill! The average recycling rate in the USA in 2009, according to the EPA, was stated at almost 34%. It could, and arguably should, be much higher. It certainly needs to be, especially when you take a closer look at what is actually going into landfill, which is what we are now going to do here on our Ecoants guide to landfill and land pollution.

Plastics don't Biodegrade

Plastic endures a long time. It is designed to be a long-lived substance that will not easily break down naturally. There are a lot of different types of plastic with different densities and chemical properties, but they all have one generality in common, in that they take up space and pollute our land, when thrown away or dumped in landfill waste. What is worse is that they won't really go anywhere. Sure, thin plastic bags might slowly break down, tear and rip into pieces, over time, but the small remaining bits of plastic remain and can cause problems if eaten by animals releasing toxins into the animal's system and into our food chain. Plastic containers, bottles, household items, and other more durable plastic items, will not even decompose into small pieces. Have a look around you now and try and identify how many items are made from plastic or include plastic in their design. This plastic will not go away, unless we burn it, and release some dangerous chemical toxins into the air as a result, or we reuse and recycle it. That's the way forward for plastic at present - reduce its use and application, reuse it, and then recycle it.

The good news is that there is research into biodegradable plastics happening, as well as making the process of plastic recycling more efficient. At present much recycling of plastic is labour intensive as there are different types of plastic and some containers and bottles use more than one type of plastic in their component parts! As a result, plastic recycling is not always profitable, which discourages business from participating. Perhaps it should be part government funded? Or perhaps we should just use less, recycle more and quickly develop plastics which biodegrade quickly in the natural environment.

Plastic can be a blight on some of our beautiful landscapes, but we have become so used to it being there that we often do not see it unless it is present in a large enough quantity. Next time you go out, see how many pieces of plastic you notice littered along your way and remember, that it will not biodegrade. This is a more difficult aspect of land pollution to control, but if we all took more responsibility for our own litter then we can reduce this. If you are so inclined, you could help out by picking it up yourself, or by organising a regular litter collection in your area. Whilst we don't like landfill, it is better that all the plastic is in one place, than scattered across our countryside and towns.

Finally, any plastic you use in the home, try and recycle and reuse it as much as possible to help give our planet a more sustainable future and reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill or to incineration.

landfill fact

One plastic drinks bottle can take up to approximately 450 years to decompose in a landfill site and plastic bags can also takes hundreds of years to fully decompose.

Batteries can be Toxic

decaying batteries

Batteries are wonderful little energy sources which help to power a huge array of gadgets, appliances, useful equipment and modern technologies. Unfortunately if they are not disposed of correctly they can lead to toxic pollution of our land-based environments. Sadly, many used batteries are not dealt with appropriately and find their way into landfill. Why? Is it apathy on our part, or is there a lack of information and facilities to dispose of batteries in the right way?

The Problem with throwing away batteries

It's not just the fact that many millions of batteries are used and disposed of each day. It's not just the fact that they take up space in landfill or the fact that throwing them away is a waste of important natural resources. Nor is it just that they decompose very slowly over time. The most serious aspect of land pollution from batteries is that some contain highly toxic metals which can have serious deleterious effects when they leak into their surrounding environments.

Cadmium is a very toxic heavy metal which is present in Nickel-Cadmium batteries. When these batteries are left to corrode slowly in landfill the surrounding soils can become contaminated with this heavy metal, and as a result, cadmium residues can enter water supplies and find their way into our food chain. Plants, fish and animals can all take up this metal once it contaminates their environments and it accumulates in their systems. We, of course, eat all of these things and, once it enters our food chain, it can slowly accumulate in our bodies. It can also enter our water supplies. Cadmium is a dangerous toxin and increased levels in the body over a period of time can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and also affect bone metabolism processes, and over time cause fragile bones. Cadmium has also been found to be carcinogenic.

Cadmium

Don't forget cadmium is also toxic to the animals that ingest it through eating contaminated plants and it can accumulate in their bodies, particularly the liver and kidneys. Cadmium binds strongly to soil particles and can have a severe adverse effect on important soil organisms, such as earthworms, which are very sensitive to low levels of this toxic metal and will be fatally poisoned by it. This shows the devastating consequence Cadmium can have on land ecosystems. It is equally toxic in aquatic environments and can accumulate in fish and shellfish, both of which are an important part of the human diet.

The example of Cadmium shows how careful we need to be when disposing of our used batteries. They should never go to landfill, nor should they ever be incinerated or burned, as these processes can lead to the Cadmium being released into the air and causing land pollution that way. Mercury is another toxic heavy metal used in some batteries, especially the small button cell batteries, which can also leak into natural environments if not disposed of properly. Again it bioaccumulates and enters food chains and can cause poisoning in many different animals. We have to be very careful how we dispose of batteries and other electronics which use heavy metal as aprt of their make up.

Lithium ion batteries are extensively used in electronics such as laptops and are often much larger than ordinary batteries. The overriding problem with these batteries is the large numbers that are thrown away and the volume that they can take up in landfill, but there is also the signifcant wast of natural resources lost when these batteries are not recycled as they should be. They should always be recycled. Not doing so causes this unnecessary land pollution, not just from landfill, but also from the fact that more mining has to be done to extract the natural resources thrown away as part of these batteries in landfill.

Car and other automotive batteries also contain dangerous chemicals such as sulphuric acid. The good news here is that a high percentage of car batteries are recycled these days. This is exactly what we should be doing with all of our batteries to ensure that our land and aquatic environments are protected from unnecessary and potentially lethal pollution.

Organic Household Waste

All that organic waste we produce at home, like potato peelings, leftover foods, egg shells, used tea bags or coffee grains, or food that has gone a little...stale or off colour....is organic household waste and adds a lot of bulk to your rubbish. Some local authorities will collect it up for you and compost it, but if you have a garden you can do it yourself! The thing with organic household waste is that, although it will biodegrade, it takes up space on a landfill site, and often lot of space. Also, because of the way much of the rubbish is compacted and stored at many landfills, this waste takes much longer to biodegrade than it would do say in your garden. This is because compacted landfill waste has little oxygen available to allow aerobic digestion of this waste, so what tends to happen is that it is broken down anaerobically (without oxygen). This is why landfill sites are often associated with high concentrations of methane gas, which is a by product of this process. This can cause health problems in homes that have been built on previous landfill sites if they are not ventilated well. This methane gas is also highly combustible so if high levels accumulate in an enclosed space, there is the potential for unexpected explosions occurring. This combustibility means that the methane can also be siphoned off, collected securely, and combusted to provide energy for homes and businesses. One further issue with methane gas produced from landfill is that methane is a very potent greenhouse gas and could potentially contribute further to global warming.

So we have a clear choice and it is obviously better to ensure that this type of waste biodegrades aerobically and preferably reused, as it contains lots of nutrients for plants. Some local authorities now collect organic household waste and deal with it separately to normal waste and ensure it biodegrades in an aerobic manner and many use it to make compost for their green areas. This seems like a good idea. You could do the same at home if you have a garden or a vegetable patch. Here at Ecoants, we have written a simple guide to composting household waste which will help you to make you own organic compost from the organic waste your home produces. This is a good idea too as it saves you money on buying in compost and creates good food for your plants! Finally, the third option we have is to add it to our normal everyday waste, which is the least desired option, because as a result, it accumulates in landfill, doesn't biodegrade quickly or properly and produces methane gas which is a potent greenhouse gas.

composting fact

It will take 3 to 9 months for your organic household waste to fully compost in an aerated composting bin.

Don't Waste Metal!

You know that metals are valuable. They are finite resources mined from our rocks, which means there is only a limited amount available to us. The mining and processing of the minerals which contain the metals we use for our everyday products, such as aluminium and tin, is both energy intensive, costly, and creates ugly heaps of rubble out of the mineral rock that is not used. Mining and processing can also result in by products which pollute the immediate land environments. We need to mine to find metal, there is no avoiding that, but we should try and avoid unnecessary mining and ruination of often attractive landscapes, unless we have to.

recycle metal cansAll the metal we have mined and processed in the past can be recycled and used time and again. This is why we should never throw metallic objects in with the rest of our rubbish which goes off to landfill. This is a tragic waste of valuable materials and takes up yet more space in landfill sites! These metallic objects don't degrade quickly either and some metals can become toxic to land environments in high quantities, especially in they seep into water supplies.

So try to avoid throwing metal away with the rest of the rubbish. Many local authorities provide recycling services for metals and we should use these. Some scrap companies will collect larger metal objects from you as they have good market value. Look around and you will see that the scrap metal market is flourishing.

landfill fact

An aluminium can will take anything between 80 up to 500 years to degrade in a landfill site.
Whereas a tin can may take between 50 and 100 years to decompose.

No Need for Glass in Landfill

This is an easy section to write about. Glass does not breakdown easily at all, it will fracture or shatter into pieces, but these pieces will remain for thousands of years, so in this way glass lasts a lot longer than the plastics. We have many uses for glass still, even though some have been replaced by plastic, but when we throw these glass objects away they take up space in landfill sites. Glass does fracture and break easily too which can make it dangerous if discarded inappropriately. There is no need to dispose of any glass with the rubbish these days as there are numerous recycling facilities for all types and colours of glass available for us to use.

landfill fact

Recycling glass saves a significant amount of energy and helps reduce fossil fuel use.

Gadgets, Technology and Accessories

Playstation 3

Today there are an increasing number of new gadgets, phones, gaming consoles, computers and other technologies with ever improving specifications that make us want to upgrade our models at regular intervals. The question then arises what to do with the older models that we no longer have any use for. Incredibly, many of these redundant phones and gadgets find their way into landfill. They take up space, valuable natural resources are lost, and many contain poisonous compounds or metals which could leak into the surrounding environments with time as they very slowly decompose.

The solution is simple. Recycle, donate or sell your electronics that you don't want or need anymore. We have lots of resources here on Ecoants which show you where you can recycle or sell these, some of which we have listed below for ease of reference.

Ink Cartridges and Laser Toner Cartridges

According to Wikipedia, each year we dump over 350 million ink cartridges in landfill. This is only a rough estimate of course as it would be impossible to measure this statistic accurately across the globe. Around 50 million ink jet cartridges are estimated to enter landfill or are incinerated in the UK each year alone. These are incredible figures. Only a small percentage of used ink cartridges are ever recycled. Manufacturers of ink cartidges do not help the situation when they use measures in their ink cartridges to make refilling them difficult. Such measures can cause the cartidge you are refilling to malfunction. Given how much original ink cartridges cost this has been a scandalous practice, but luckily many businesses that remanufacture ink cartridges have been able to overcome these inappropriate measures are now able to refill and resell used ink cartridges for reuse.

The ink cartridge problem

ink cartridges

Many households have printers at home and the majority of businesses use them too and they get through huge numbers of ink cartridges. Printer manufacturers always state you should use their original ink cartridges only, yet remanufactured cartridges are just as good, if not better, in terms of value for money and ink quality some cases. How do we persuade people to use remanufactured (recycled) ink cartridges or to refill their own used cartridges? Well, lets look at what happens to the cartridges that are thrown away and end up in landfill.

Ink cartridges can take up to 1000 years to decompose in a landfill site. Now just take a brief moment to imagine how many generations that is!? When you consider the many millions of cartridges that have already been dumped in this way, you can see just how criminal this form of land pollution is. They don't just disappear overnight or quickly dissolve into the soil, although it is probably a case of out of sight out of mind! We are leaving behind a horrible legacy of land pollution, not just in the form of ink cartridges (and laser printer toner cartridges), for many future generations, who will not thank us for it. This is a wasteful, unsustainable, and totally irresponsible way to deal with something that can often easily be remanufactured, reused or recycled.

As a result of not reusing our existing ink cartridges or laser toner cartridges, new ones have to be manufactured. This has a knock on cost to the environment in terms of global warming, as the manufacturing process releases carbon dioixde, which is substantial when you consider the increasing number of ink and toner cartridges that have to be made each year to accommodate an increasingly technological world.

So what can we do?

Both business and individual consumers can do a lot to ensure that the volume of ink and toner cartridge waste is reduced substantially.

1/ Firstly, only print what needs to be printed. This will save ink and toner cartridge use and save you money.
2/ Secondly, recycle your used ink and toner cartridges. There are many schemes. Some are offered by the companies that supply your business, some are offered by the original cartridge manufacturer, and some are offered by third parties who remanufacture recycled ink cartridges.
3/ Thirdly, and one of the best practices, is to buy remanufactured ink and toner cartridges. These are significantly cheaper so will save your home or your business money. The technology for remnaufacturing ink and toner cartridges started in the 1980s and has become very effective at producing very good quality ink in recycled cartridges at reasonable prices.

We have written a page on Ecoants dedicated to showing you where to recycle your ink cartridges and where you can buy remanufactured ink cartridges.

What's next?

We hope you have learnt a little about the problems of dumping the majority of our waste into landfill. It is not sustainable and it pollutes our land in many ways, such as those outlined above. We need to be taking action now to ensure that much less domestic, commercial and industrial waste ends up being sealed in landfill sites. There are alternative options, one of which is incineration of waste. We have written a short guide to incineration on Ecoants looking at some of the advantages and disadvantages of dealing with waste using this rather controversial method.