B3.2 The Environmental Impact of Waste


One recycled aluminium can saves enough energy to run a television set for three hours.


All Waste Management options may create nuisance caused from increased traffic, noise, dust and odour. However, each final disposal waste management option also has its own drawbacks.



Most waste is still sent to landfill. Considering that we will run out of landfill space in the next few years (the Environment Agency state that current space approved for landfill will run out in the next 5 to 10 years), alternatives must be found.

In addition to the lack of space, there are other environmental impacts associated with landfill.

At present, it is estimated that two-thirds of waste currently sent to landfill is biodegradable organic matter. These release methane and carbon dioxide, which are greenhouse gases. One tonne of biodegradable waste produces between 200m3 and 400m3 of landfill gas. Waste treatment, including landfill, released nearly 32% of the UK’s methane emissions in 2004.

Many landfill sites extract the gas for energy recovery, which involves burning the methane. This produces carbon dioxide.

Landfill sites may cause pollution from organic acids, ammonia and other hazardous substances. Landfill produces a liquid, which is known as leachate. Modern landfills either contain, or collect and treat this.

About one fifth of the contents of household dustbins consists of paper and card, of which half is newspapers and magazines. This is equivalent to over 4kg of waste paper per household in the UK each week.



If temperatures are not exactly maintained gases and very fine particulates may escape. Greenhouse gases may also be emitted. Modern technology can control such issues, but the public are still resistant to the thought of living near an incinerator.

It is true that in the past, hazardous wastes have accidentally been incinerated, creating toxic emissions.

An incineration plant does not completely combust all material. That is to say, there will be some ash left, just as with a household bonfire. This ash must then be reused or disposed of.