Waste Management Basics

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An old computer recycling farm in the Midwest. Image Credit: USGS/Photo by Carl Orazio.
An old computer recycling farm in the Midwest. Image Credit: USGS/Photo by Carl Orazio.
  • An old computer recycling farm in the Midwest. Image Credit: USGS/Photo by Carl Orazio.
  • Pile of papers in a recycle center. Image Credit:  Antlio/Shutterstock.com

An essential goal of waste management is to dispose of waste without contaminating water, soil, and air. Many wastes are disposed of safely in engineered landfills, by incineration, and in underground injection wells. All of these processes of waste management are monitored and regulated closely.[1] Waste management can also provide economic opportunity: generating energy from landfill gas; recycling to produce new materials from used plastic, paper, glass, or metal; or composting to produce rich soil from yard and food waste.

Why does waste management matter?

Safe waste management is essential in a world with increasing amounts of waste – from plastic trash to industrial waste water. Without proper management, solid and water wastes can have a number of impacts on public health and ecosystems.

How does geoscience help?

Geoscientists help design systems to dispose of waste safely – whether in the air, on the surface, or beneath the ground. They also help to locate safe sites for waste management and study the impacts of waste underground and at the surface.

References

1Environmental Protection Agency, "Summary of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act", https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-resource-conservation-and-recovery-act, accessed May 18, 2017

Learn More

Introductory Resources

  • Learn about Waste (Website), Environmental Protection Agency
    Web articles on resource conservation, hazardous waste, and non-hazardous waste.
     
  • Injection Wells (Webpage), Environmental Protection Agency
    Brief web article in question-answer format on what underground injection wells are used for, what they are injected with, how wells are categorized and regulated, and links to regulators in each state.
     
  • The Science of Waste Management (Fact Sheet - PDF), Waste Management, Inc.
    A fact sheet on the science of landfill management and the use of methane gas, a by-product of trash decomposition, as an energy source.

Resources for Educators

Frequently Asked Questions

American Geosciences Institute
American Geosciences Institute
American Geosciences Institute
American Geosciences Institute
2017-05-18