Virtually all the resources flowing through the materials economy eventually end up as waste to be disposed somewhere, usually dumped or burned or recovered for recycling. As the volume and toxicity of waste grows, recycling can’t solve the whole problem. Waste needs to be designed out of the system from the start-through cleaner production, better product design, composting, recycling and using less stuff overall.
All landfills eventually leak. All incinerators pollute. Dumping and burning waste pollutes the air, land and water; releases potent greenhouse gases; wastes resources that could have been conserved and diverts attention and funding away from real solutions. Recycling conserves materials and energy, but is often itself a dirty process and isn’t always possible with today’s mix of toxic and poorly designed products.
Emission from landfills and incinerators cause a variety of public health impacts locally and globally. Air currents carry emissions around the world and dioxin and other toxics build up in the food chain, so even communities far from the source may be exposed to health threats either through inhalation or eating animal products containing accumulated dioxins and other toxic compounds.
Workers at landfills and incinerators have reported work-related injuries and increased health problems, often linked to exposure to toxics. Recycling and re-use creates far more, and far safer, jobs than do landfills and incinerators. In the U.S., on a per ton basis, sorting and processing recyclables alone sustains 11 times more jobs than incineration does.
Waste follows the path of least resistance. As environmental regulations and community opposition to new landfills, incinerators and even dirty recycling operations has grown in the wealthier countries, waste traffickers export waste, including dirty recycling operations, to countries in the global South where regulations, community access to information and public opposition are less stringent.
Combining Clean Production at the front end with Zero Waste approaches throughout the materials economy transforms wasteful, linear systems of production and disposal to be cyclical, safe, sustainable and socially sound. This succeeds in reducing the quantity and toxicity of production inputs and waste outputs and slows the overall materials flow to a level the planet can sustain.
NGOs to Contact
Click the HERE for a list of organizations working on the issue of disposal. This list is not exhaustive. At this stage, we have limited the list to organizations in the U.S. Many more internation, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be found at wiserearth.org, an online community directory and networking forum that maps and connects NGOs working on critical environmental and social issues of our times.
To add your own organization, please post your profile on wiserearth.org in order to connect with others around the world with shared interests.