In recent years, numerous groups, including federal agencies, have offered advice on how Britons can be “good environmentalists”. The broadcast and print media, consumers, legislators and even children are told what products and what actions are environmentally “good” and “bad”. The advice is based on little more than the simple-minded application of such core beliefs as “recycling is good”, “disposal are bad”, “packaging is bad” and “plastics are bad”. (Atkins, 2004)
Careful studies show that disposables are not necessarily work than reusable or recyclable products. For example: Aseptic juice boxes (which are usually disposed of, rather than recycled) have a clear edge over their alternatives by most measures. Consumers who care mainly about landfills may then choose cloth diapers. (Leeden, 1991) For two-thirds of the Britons landfills (those without liners), it’s the products which degrade that pose a potential environmental threat.
Degradation can lead to leaching and chemicals reach the water supply and cause a health threat to fish, wildlife and humans. The other one-third of landfills are completely sealed and allowed very little degradation. Most controlled wastes in Britain- that is; household, commercial and individual wastes- are disposed of to landfill. In England and Wales, 80% of their municipal solid waste is disposed to landfill, about 14%is incinerated and the rest are recycled.
All waste disposal activities at landfill in Britain sites have been tightly regulated since a licensing system was introduced. The purpose of the licensing system was to ensure that the waste is recovered or disposed of in ways which protect the environment and human health. Within the planning regime, the emphasis is on an engineering approach to landfill design and construction based on site-specific assessment, underpinned by quality management and good operational practices to achieve a high standard of implementation and environmental protection. (Leeden, 1991)
In Britain, despite these controls, concern continues to be expressed about whether landfill sites might present a health risk for people living nearby. A number of scientific studies have investigated whether there are higher than usual levels of adverse health events, such as cancer, or congenital anomalies, in populations living near to sites but no clear picture has emerged. Many of these studies investigated old sites, uncontrolled dumps or sites where significant off-site migration of chemicals was detected, and the results can not be extrapolated to landfill sites in general.
In August 1998 a study of the incidence of congenital anomalies near hazardous waste landfill sites in Europe (the EUROHAZCON study) was published in the Lancet (Dolk et al Lancet, Volume 352, pp 423-427 and a relevant commentary on page 417). This study investigated pregnancy outcomes in women living within 7 kilometers of 21 hazardous waste landfill sites in five countries, including the UK. Overall, it found an increased incidence of congenital anomaly in babies whose mothers lived close to a landfill site compared to those who lived further away. Leeden, 1991) In conclusion, we can not safely dispose of solid waste.
Government regulation and new technology permit the safe disposal of solid waste-in landfills or by waste-to-energy incineration-without threat to human health or environment. Even without new improvements, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the aggregate risk from all operating municipal solid waste landfills in Britain is one cancer death every 23 years.