Hesperian Health Guides

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Some Waste Does Not Go Away

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 18: Solid Waste: Turning a Health Risk into a Resource > Some Waste Does Not Go Away


Waste is a problem almost everywhere because we make so much of it. And, as we see all around us, waste made from plastics, glass, and metal does not go away.

Food and other goods were once wrapped in natural or reusable materials, such as banana leaves or newspaper. Containers and other useful things were made from clay, wood, or other materials taken directly from the earth. When they were discarded, these materials did not become trash, because they quickly decayed and returned to the earth.

Now, with industry using materials such as plastics, metals, and chemicals, most manufactured products become trash when we are done using them. Everything from bottles, buckets, and bags, to cars and computers is made of materials that are strong and light, but that take a long time to decay. Packaging things in cans, bottles, and plastic bags makes them easy to transport and sell, but it also creates much more waste.

The life cycle of a plastic bag

 Arrows lead from an oil tanker and drilling platform, to a refinery, to a woman carrying a plastic bag, to a dog at a trash heap.

People used to use baskets and cloth bags to carry things. Now we use plastic bags, making them one of the most commonly used plastic products. Millions of them are made and thrown away every year.
Crude oil is drilled from the earth or ocean floor.
Crude oil is refined and mixed with other chemicals to make plastic. Raw plastic is then made into many products, including plastic bags.
Plastic bags end up in roads, fields, and waste dumps. They clog waterways and drains, and choke animals to death. Burning them releases toxic gases. Buried, no one knows how long they take to break down completely.
Because oil was cheap and plastic is convenient, plastic bags are used all over the world. Often they are used for just a few minutes before they are thrown out.


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