Garbage affects every area of the environment. The disposal of garbage by burning, dumping or even at waste disposal centres can cause irreparable damage to humans, marine life, wildlife and the ecosystem. The National Park System estimates that almost 160 million tons of solid waste is generated in the United States every year.
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A landfill is one of the biggest garbage disposal methods used within the U.S. Landfills can contaminate the water in lakes, rivers and oceans by running through the ground and into the water supply. Humans and wildlife using this water as drinking water can become sick and even die. Marine life living in this water become infected with disease and eventually die because of the toxins released from the garbage in these landfills. Garbage is also being dumped beside rivers and streams, contaminating the water supply to humans and animals.
Garbage being burnt in incinerators is polluting the air. The smoke from the incinerator has poisonous toxins and is blowing into both forests and cities. Once the smoke reaches trees and water, the toxins can starve the foliage from getting the carbon dioxide required. Without sufficient carbon dioxide, the trees and plants cannot process the harmful gas into oxygen. The foliage is choked and dies, oxygen levels go down and humans do not get oxygen recycled for their use.
Garbage also contributes to the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is the process of heat building up on the Earth's surface. Heat from the sun penetrates the atmosphere and bounces off the Earth's surface releasing back into space. Gases released from landfills and garbage incinerators can prevent that heat from being released back into space. Once heat is trapped, the Earth becomes like the inside of a car on a hot day. Heat builds up and the temperature on the Earth's surface increases, creating major environmental problems such as the polar caps melting.
One of the ways to prevent or decrease the environmental damage of garbage is to prevent the generation of garbage. Changing the way garbage is disposed of is another way to prevent environmental damage. The National Parks Service gives a good example of eliminating the use of disposable bottles by manufacturing refillable bottles instead, thus eliminating the disposal of trash within parks, the countryside and along roadways. Buying recycled materials or recycling garbage also prevents damage to the environment. Bottles, paper, cans and other metals can be recycled and reused in other products. Using biodegradable materials means using materials that breakdown into the soil. A lot of garbage is biodegradable, but landfills pack the garbage so tight, the materials cannot break down.
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- Miami-Dade College: The Effects of Trash and Garbage On the Environment
- New Hampshire Public Television: Trash and the Environment
- National Park System: The Effects of Waste
- Environmental Protection Agency: Climate Change
- National Oceanic and Atmoshperic Administration: What is the Greenhouse Effect
- The Landfill Site: Landfills; Environmental Problems