42. What to Do?

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What happens to all the solid waste produced in the United States? Well, some of it is thrown away. It litters streets, roadways, the countryside and waterways. Some of it is burned in open air. Still some trash is left to sit in the open at garbage dumps. These dumps smell, look bad and attract rats and insects. Some of the trash is buried. Valuable materials that might have been reclaimed and reused are thus lost. Some of the buried waste can be harmful. It leaks deadly chemicals which poison the land and the water.

Waste is everywhere. Each year we throw away more than 7 million television sets. We junk 7 million old cars and trucks. We use and discard 48 billion cans and 26 billion bottles. We toss out 30 million tons of paper. Waste disposal costs us four and a half billion dollars a year. Something has to be done with all this trash and garbage. Even though we are not sure of the best way to get rid of trash, we must make an effort.

Open garbage dumps are the most common place we put our solid wastes. Therefore, it’s a good place to start. These dumps can be made better by turning them into clean landfills. In such a landfill, a layer of soil is applied daily over the waste. This helps to keep pests away and cuts down on the water pollutants that wash off in the rain. A landfill does away with the need to burn the waste, and this prevents wind-blown litter. When filled, the site can be planted with grass, shrubs and trees and made into a park.

But ordinary sanitary landfills may not stop waste matter from seeping through the soil and ruining water supplies. Dangerous waste matter needs landfills that are sealed in a special way to stop seepage. In the past harmful waste was burned. It was also dumped into waterways. But then pollution controls went into effect. More of these wastes showed up in landfills. The yearly amount of harmful waste is on the rise. Our health is threatened by the unsafe waste from these landfills.

There are good ways to get rid of most dangerous waste without harming health or the ecology. But costs of such disposal are high. Federal and state governments are working with business firms and citizens to solve these cost and waste problems.

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