Waste affects our ecosystems and our health

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We often wonder where our planet will end up, if it continues this linear path to self-destruction. Life, in the form that we all know, exists due to air, water and earth, these being the main elements that underlie our existence. When one of these elements is disturbed by man and can no longer follow its natural cycles, the balance is destroyed, and we sometimes look without right of reply at real ecological disasters. In addition to the catastrophic impact on ecosystems, reckless human activity in environmental matters also poses major dangers to the general health of the population, causing disease and even death (it is estimated that about 7 million people die annually due to nature pollution).

Waste management, like all environmental efforts, involves stressors and receptors. Stressors are agents that must be disposed of, reduced, or otherwise managed, such as the waste itself or certain constituents of the waste, for example, heavy metals, organic compounds, microbes, or energy. Receptors, by definition, receive damage caused by stressors. Environmental receptors are usually classified as human or ecological, but can also be abiotic, such as construction materials and national monuments. Next, we will refer to human receptors in the description of the impact of waste on public health, and on ecological receptors – in the analysis of the impact of waste on ecosystems.

  • The impact of waste on ecosystems

Ecosystems vary greatly from location to location. However, one of the most obvious consequences of the global waste problem refers to maritime life. The waste continues to affect fish, seals, turtles, whales and many other aquatic animals at an alarming rate, as evidenced by the fact that scientists have found significant fragments of plastic in more than a thousand species of marine animals. Due to the ingestion of garbage or plastics, hunger is usually the next step for the animals concerned, as some species do not have acid levels high enough in the stomach to be able to break down the object they have ingested. In terms of terrestrial biodiversity, a landfill means the elimination from the affected area of a number of 30-300 species/ha, without considering the microbiological population of the soil. In addition, the biocenoses in the vicinity of the landfill are changing, the plant species from polluted areas become dominant and some mammals, birds, insects leave the area, to the advantage of those who find food in the garbage (rats, crows).

The impact of waste on public health

Human health is in danger precisely through our inaction, but we continue to produce large quantities of garbage, with minimal results in its proper disposal and recovery. We cannot promote the longevity of life on earth if we do not give up the way we treat our planet. The more emissions we produce due to the amount of garbage we generate, the more this affects us more in the long run. Waste, especially industrial waste, is a source of health risk due to its content in toxic substances such as heavy metals (lead, cadmium), pesticides, solvents, used oils, etc. The most difficult problem is hazardous materials (including toxic sludge, petroleum products, paint residues, metallurgical slag) that are stored in common with municipal solid waste. Diseases such as asthma, birth defects, cancer, cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases, low birth weight and premature birth can develop. Bacteria, parasites and insects can also be added to the list of health problems caused by improper waste management. Therefore, the correct management of waste is the responsibility of all of us, because we benefit and suffer from the degree of this management in radical ways. The education and awareness of all communities, regardless of their social and economic condition, must always be present as long as life exists on this planet. That is why a significant mismanagement of waste by Turkey and Chile, where only 1% of waste has been reported as recycled, can contribute to global environmental disasters. Even if you move away to Greenland, there is no escape. We all need to play a primary role in proper waste management if we want a living planet, protected ecosystems and an adequate level of public health.

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