Managing solid waste has become an overwhelming task. It has brought tremendous disagreements on how to best dispose of waste safely, efficiently and economically. The controversies range from the rising costs of disposal, to environmental degradation, to new landfills and incinerators that are needed. Some encourage habits that emphasize reducing the amount of waste that is produced, mainly through reusing, recycling, and composting whatever is possible.
Today’s landfills are designated areas that are specially created so waste can be put into the ground with little or no harm to the natural environment through pollution. Modern landfills are engineered to protect the environment and prevent pollutants from entering the soil and possibly polluting ground water. The use of a clay liner blocks pollutants from leaving the landfill. The use of synthetic liners, like plastic, separates the landfill’s trash from the land below.
New Roots Charter School in Ithaca, New York creates a model of secondary education that integrates best practices in sustainability education. Students Irene Case and Nathanael Cornell have found opposite views through a research project on municipal landfills.
“Well, garbage is bad, of course, but a practical use of landfills is when solid waste decomposes, landfill gas is released,” says New Roots senior, Irene Case. “That gas can then be used to generate electricity and thermal energy. It can also be used to replace fossil fuels.”
While Case found positive uses from the release of landfill gases, New Roots freshman Nathanael Cornell found negative uses.
“Landfill sites are becoming an eyesore with increasing piles of waste,” says Cornell. “Two of the most concerning problems are that the materials which end up as waste content contain toxic substances which, over time, leach into our soil and the groundwater. Eventually this releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty-one times more potent than carbon dioxide. The implication of a global warming climate change is enormous.”
The one thing that everyone agrees on is that landfills will always be needed to handle our noncombustible, non-recyclable materials. Therefore, municipals must insure that landfill space will continue to be available for our communities’ garbage. In many communities, landfills will remain the primary management option when other options become infeasible because of size and population density.
While we all agree that we must find a way to dispose of waste, alternative uses must constantly be created to keep our environment healthy.
Written by: Nathanael Cornell & Geranda Hilton
Voiced by: Geranda Hilton
Equipment Support: Irene Case