log in

Waste disposal

Themes: Waste disposal and soils | Waste products in soil | Dealing with the threats | Quiz

Over the years soils have become a dumping ground for rubbish. While some rubbish, such as that forming compost, can be beneficial, other waste can cause pollution, damage the soil organisms and add undesirable elements to the soil. As a result of its position at the surface of the earth, where most human activities are located, the soil has a long history of being a recipient of waste in one form of another. This began many centuries ago when humans mined the soil and underlying rock for coal and minerals. Soil was seen then as disposable. Not only did the miners disrupt large areas of soils in their mining but also left behind extensive deposits of materials some of which contained toxic components. Some areas were so polluted that they were unable to grow any vegetation because of the soil contamination that resulted. Almost every country of the world was at one time involved in such activities and many still are.

Following the Industrial Revolution of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the huge increase in industrialization and the production of a wide range of manufactured goods, there was much more widespread pollution and contamination of the soil, following the need to dispose of large amounts of waste. The soil became a major recipient for this waste and there was little concern about depositing it in or on the soil. This waste was in a wide variety of forms and included human waste and sewage spread on land and various industrial wastes including those from textiles, the paper industry, abattoirs and tanneries. Some of these at least were seen as amendments to the soil and good for it but as a side effect have added toxic substances to many soils.

In recent years, a much wider range of waste has been added to the soil, some accidentally, some with intent. Associated with modern industry has been the development of thousands of synthetic organic chemicals. These include plastics, lubricants, solvents, pesticides and many have been added to the soil for disposal or, as in the case of pesticides, as an attempt to suppress would-be pests and diseases to plants. These have led to various forms of contamination in soils and to the loss of numerous organisms in the soil whose exact role was still undiscovered. In recent years also the process of nuclear fission arising from the development of nuclear power stations and the testing of atomic weapons has contaminated soils with radionuclides. For example, the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 left large areas of land polluted with radionuclides - the effects were even felt in Britain!

Themes: Waste disposal and soils | Waste products in soil | Dealing with the threats | Quiz