- A death sentence
Compiled by Kotie Geldenhuys
When we throw something into the garbage bin, we seldom think about its destination. All the discarded plastic bags, broken cellphones and televisions, used batteries and bulbs, glass bottles and old stoves contribute in some way to environmental pollution. When broken down, however, this waste is potentially hazardous since harmful toxins are released into the air and surrounding soil and ground water.
Waste covers a wide spectrum of discarded materials including municipal waste, electrical and electronic waste; industrial and agricultural waste; and new types of waste such as counterfeit pesticides. It includes anything ranging in size and scale from decommissioned ships, oil or liquid waste and millions of cellphones to billions of used car tyres.
Aldag (Nd) explains that dust from the remains of the World Trade Centre buildings that were destroyed during the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York were found to contain mercury, lead, dioxin and asbestos. Three Superfund toxic waste sites in and around New Orleans were flooded in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, and toxic waste was found in debris deposited throughout the flooded area. The devastating Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of December 2004 stirred up and dispersed vast amounts of toxic waste, including radioactive waste, lead, heavy metals and hospital waste across the Indian Ocean basin. The tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 resulted in the Fukushima nuclear accident where vast amounts of irradiated water were released into the Pacific Ocean.
Types of waste
The National Environmental Management: Waste Amendment Act 26 of 2014 divides waste into two groups based on the risk posed, namely:
- General waste - this does not pose an immediate hazard or threat to human health or the environment. It includes domestic waste; building and demolition waste; business waste; inert waste; or any waste classified as non-hazardous waste in terms of the regulations made under section 69 of Act 26 of 2014, and includes non-hazardous substances, materials or objects within the business, domestic, inert or building and demolition wastes.
- Hazardous waste - this is any waste that contains organic or inorganic elements or compounds that may have a detrimental impact on human health and the environment. It includes waste that contains organic or inorganic elements or compounds that may, owing to the inherent physical, chemical or toxicological characteristics of that waste, have a detrimental impact on human health and the environment and includes hazardous substances, materials or objects within business waste, residue deposits and residue stockpiles. It includes:
- Gaseous waste
- Mercury containing waste (liquid and solid)
- Persistent organic pollutants (POP) waste
- Inorganic waste
- Asbestos containing waste
- Waste oils
- Organic halogenated and/or sulphur containing solvents/waste
- Organic solvents/waste without halogens and sulphur
- Mineral waste
- Health care risk waste
According to the Basel Convention (see below), hazardous waste is an umbrella term for poisonous by-products of manufacturing, farming, city septic systems, construction, automotive garages, laboratories, hospitals and other industries. The waste may be in liquid, solid, or sludge form and contain chemicals, heavy metals, radiation, dangerous pathogens, or other toxins. It even includes household-generated hazardous waste from items such as batteries, used computer equipment and leftover paints or pesticides (www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/toxic-waste). By throwing a broken/unused cellphone into a garbage bin, we expose the earth to lead, mercury and plastic, creating environmental problems.