Waste Pollution and impacts on health

With an increase in the global population and a rising demand for food and other essentials, there has been a rise in the amount of waste being generated on a daily basis by households.

This waste is collected by the local municipalities and disposed of at landfill sites. However, not all of waste gets collected and transported to the final waste dumping site and in some cases, is dumped off on vacant municipal property. This causes environmental pollution, resulting in serious negative impacts on health and problems to the surrounding environment.

Types of waste and the effect it has on people and the environment:

Unattended waste

Unattended waste that is not disposed of, attracts flies, rats, and other vectors that spread diseases. Also known as Organic Domestic Waste, it poses a serious health threat, since they ferment, creating conditions favourable to the survival and growth of microbial pathogens. Direct handling of solid waste can also result in various types of infectious and chronic diseases.

Waste pollution

Waste pollution
Waste pollution

Waste pollution, especially solid waste and other liquids from households and the community pose a serious health hazard to all living in a confined area and lead to the spread of infectious diseases. These health hazards allow biodegradable materials to decompose under uncontrolled and unhygienic conditions, producing  foul smells and causes various types of insects to infest areas that become hotspots for dangerous diseases. Wet waste that decomposes are more prone to release bad smells and leads to unhygienic conditions and thereby to a rise in the health problems. Plague outbreaks are a result of this.

Illegal dumping of solid waste

Illegal solid waste heaps up alongside roads and on open land due to improper disposal systems. People clean their own houses and litter their immediate surroundings which affects the community including themselves.

Illegal dumping of agricultural or industrial solid waste

Illegal dumping
Illegal dumping

Direct dumping of untreated waste in rivers, seas and lakes results in the accumulation of toxic substances in the food chain through the plants and animals that feed on it. Industrial solid waste is a source of toxic metals and hazardous waste, which may spread on land and can cause changes in physico-chemical and biological characteristics, thereby affecting productivity of soil. Toxic substances may leach or infiltrate and contaminate ground water. In refuse mixing, the hazardous wastes are mixed with garbage and other combustible waste. This makes segregation and disposal of the waste more difficult and risky. Various types of waste like cans, pesticides, cleaning solvents, batteries (zinc, lead or mercury), radioactive materials, plastics and e-waste are mixed up with paper, scraps and other non-toxic materials which could be recycled. Burning of some of these materials produces dioxins, furans and polychlorinated biphenyls, which have the potential to cause various types of ailments that affect human health (cancer) – children are more vulnerable to these pollutants.

Health care risk waste

Health care waste
Health care waste

Health Care waste requires special attention since this can create major health hazards. This waste generated from the hospitals, health care centres, medical laboratories, and research centres such as discarded syringe needles, bandages, swabs, plasters, and other types of infectious waste are often disposed with the regular non-infectious waste.

The population groups at risk from the unscientific disposal of solid waste include the population in areas where there is no proper waste disposal method, especially the following:

  • Pre-school children;
  • waste workers;
  • workers at facilities producing toxic and infectious material; and
  • Other high-risk groups include population living close to a waste dumping area and those, whose water supply has become contaminated either due to waste dumping or leakage from a waste dumping site.

Illegal solid waste dumping increases the risk of injury, outbreak of diseases and infections.

Preventive measures

Proper methods of waste disposal and have to be undertaken awareness programmes by municipal officials to ensure that it does not affect the environment or cause health hazards to communities.

At the household-level, waste must be disposed of in refuse bins or plastic bags for municipal collection. Waste can be segregated for recycling purposes and it should be ensured that all organic matter is kept aside for composting, which is undoubtedly the best method for the correct disposal of organic waste. In fact, the organic part of the waste that is generated decomposes more easily, attracts insects and causes disease.

Organic waste can be composted and then used as a fertilizer. Litter or trash that people drop all around the ground is an eyesore. Worse, it can be harmful to children, animals, and the rest of the environment. If you see some trash on the ground around your neighborhood, don’t assume someone else will take care of it. Be proactive in taking care of it where you live.

For any information about Municipal health, contact Eden DM’s Municipal Health Section at: 044 – 803 1300

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