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The Threats Of Municipal Solid Waste

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Sometimes called garbage or trash, municipal solid waste consists of everyday items used and then throw away, such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint, and batteries, which comes from our homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses. Compared to the current levels of municipal solid waste today, before the 1850s, this production was very low. “In the pre-industrial era, people did not have access to convenient and efficient ways of transporting goods from one place to another, therefore, their access of food and goods to only local sources was limited, eliminating the need for common packaging”. Waste management was conducted by or on behalf of individual property owners by removing the waste from the building and discarding it onto the land, either uncovered or buried, whereby, food waste was often fed to animals, particularly swine, and was deposited in open bodies of water, such as ponds, bogs, lakes, rivers and the ocean. In some areas, crowding became a chronic problem wells were polluted, and deaths from epidemic disease mounted rapidly as dumped garbage created overspills into alleys and streets, pigs roamed freely, slaughterhouses spewed nauseating fumes, and rats and cockroaches infested most dwellings-including the White House.

An open dump is defined as a land disposal site at which solid wastes are disposed of in a manner that does not protect the environment, are susceptible to open burning, and are exposed to the elements, vectors, and scavengers. There are some environmental problems that open dumps cause. Open dumps provide breeding grounds for dangerous contaminants like rats, which can spread diseases such as tetanus and rabies, and mosquitoes with the virus for example St. Louis Encephalitis. Drinking water is threatened by open dumps, and also the earth’s surface in regards to safety risks from sharp objects or needles, combustible levels of explosive methane, and unstable slopes, which can shift and potentially injure or kill. In a survey conducted, the fresh solid waste composition study shows that “samples from the open dump site contained about 90–95 % combustible materials and non-combustible fraction is about 1–5 %”.

An early landfill is the name given to what replaced the burning of garbage in open dumps. “Early landfills took the place of those dumps, with no effort to compact or cover up the waste”. An open dump is different from a landfill in that it is an excavated piece of land used as storage for waste materials that is unregulated by government, while a landfill is also an excavated piece of land used for waste storage, but it is regulated by the government.

There are some disadvantages associated with early landfills such as, leachate, methane, incomplete decomposition, and settling or sinkholes. Leachate is water with various pollutants that drains from landfills. This is considered to be the most serious problem with landfills due to the damage it can cause to the environment if it escapes. Besides potential health hazards leachate causes, there are many other concerns such as, fires and explosions, vegetation damage, unpleasant odors, landfill settlement, ground water pollution, air pollution and global warming.

Methane is a byproduct of anaerobic (not enough oxygen). It is a tasteless, colorless, odorless gas, highly flammable, and also poses a major threat to the climate. Methane can seep through cracks because it is light, and therefore can prompt an explosion. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “methane accounts for about 10 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from human activities like natural gas systems, landfills, coal mining and manure-management systems”. On the other hand, especially as natural gas, methane is an important fuel source, as it produces fewer greenhouse gases when burned than coal or oil. Methane also creates some risks to the climate because it sometimes escape during extraction and transportation causing hydraulic fracturing.

Since biodegradable materials degrade very slowly, this has caused an incomplete decomposition at landfills. Petroleum based plastics resist decomposition, and after decades, buried newspapers can still be read. Water is a vital ingredient in decomposition, but at the same time, it produces toxic leachates in landfills. Settling is one of the results of incomplete decomposition. Incomplete decomposition can cause both atmospheric and hydrological effects.

Settling or sinkhole occurs in landfills as shallow depressions or deep holes. They are caused by loading and other processes such as chemical and microbial actions. Factors like leachate composition and temperature and moisture are what control settlings. As a result, “settlement in landfilled waste, especially long-term settlement, is complex and difficult to predict in both magnitude and timing”. A settling can eventually result in problems, such as crack formations in the cover, and damage to gas and liquid collection and drainage systems.

“Modern landfills are well-engineered and managed facilities for the disposal of solid waste. They are located, designed, operated and monitored to ensure compliance with federal regulations”. Modern landfills are always designed to prevent liquid from leaching out and entering the environment. Compared to early landfills, modern landfills are municipal solid waste landfills which are highly regulated and advanced. Modern landfills are constructed with a number of safeguards, including clay or plastic lining to contain leachate while early landfills were unregulated landfills with no effort to compact or cover up the waste. Whereas early landfills were created on unused lands without regards for the environmental effect to the living population in that surrounding, the creation of modern landfills take into consideration the health of individuals and the environment. Also, early landfills were designed allowing waste to be deposited directly onto the soil with no barriers or liners. As a result, leachate percolates through the waste, pick-up harmful contaminates, and then enter into the soil, but with the design of modern landfills, there is protective liners made of clay or plastic that provide a barrier between the disposed waste and the ground below. This permits any liquid that develops among the waste to be collected and treated to prevent contamination.

The Altamont Landfill in California is an award-winning facility that is internationally recognized for its sustainable practices and leadership in landfill management. The landfill is engaged in compositing. This facility provides in-county processing of up to 500 tons per day of residential green waste co-collected with food waste. Altamont Landfill supplies sustainable landscape products to farmers, gardeners and landscapers, product line of locally sourced and produced, 100% recycled compost and mulch. There are certain services that the facility provides such as recycling of metals, C&D and tires, and solidification. Due to the hazardous effects of asbestos, these materials are only collected on specified days, and should be bagged or boxed for disposal. Altamont does not accept electronic, hazardous, infectious or biohazard, NRC regulated radioactive, or universal wastes. Altamont Landfill is an environmental steward as it protects the air, surface and groundwater. It utilizes state-of-the-art liners, leachate collection, groundwater monitoring and extensive landfill gas collection and control systems.

Municipal solid waste is the waste materials generated by a residential or commercial community. The disposal of MSW now compared to then has totally changed in regards to the environmental factors and to human health. Once, it used to be common for waste to be thrown outdoors and cause a nuisance to people by harboring vectors, but today, disposing waste management is regulated by the government. There are open dumps that are areas where piles of household garbage thrown along roadways which is harmful both to the environment and to person’s health. Early landfills had no restrictions in the types of wastes that were disposed in these locations, and therefore, the chemical make-up of the waste was never known. There are also the modern landfills that are designed to protect the environment by containing and isolating waste. With early landfills, there were some drawbacks due to the “free-for-all” nature of these disposal sites. There was water seeping through the waste consisting of harmful contaminates, the leaking of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming, incomplete decomposition which led to settling. Nowadays, there are modern landfills like the Altamont Landfill in California that “thinks green.” I have gathered a lot of information from this assignment. I have been highlighted on the effects ground water contamination as a result of improper waste disposal can have on our private and public drinking water supply. Gratefully, the MSW has regulated garbage disposal techniques, and to some extent, this has curtailed the spreading of diseases through the growth of insect or rodent. However, the most important information I have learned from this assignment is how important it is to dispose of our waste properly.

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