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The Waste Problem

Among the problems facing world economies in the coming years are two very significant challenges:

Waste Disposal

Huge quantities of waste are produced around the world, with amounts increasing due to population growth and change in consumption patterns. The US alone produces over 250 mil-lion tons of municipal solid waste per year, plus many hun-dreds of millions of tons of commercial waste, hospital waste, used tires and other types of non-recyclable waste. Most waste is burned in incinerators or dumped in landfills, both of which are inefficient, costly and lead to a host of environmen-tal problems.

 Contaminated moisture from landfills can leach into the water table for decades;

 The solid remains of landfills are a long-term contami-nant;

 Methane and carbon dioxide (in addition to unpleasant odors) are released into the atmosphere;

 Landfills can catch fire, and are very difficult to extinguish, resulting in increased pollution;

 Incineration can release NOx, SOx, dioxins, furans and other dangerous pollutants;

 Fly-ash from incineration is hazardous and typically must be buried in specially designated landfills.

In many countries, landfill space is now in short supply. For example, in 1978 there were around 20,000 landfills in the US. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that by the end of 2010, only 1,200 landfills remain.

Recycling, while positive, can only address a fraction of the problem, as there remain many types of waste that cannot be recycled.

Over-Reliance on Fossil Fuels

The supply of fossil fuels is finite and subject to political uncer-tainty, which is reflected in the long term upward price trend. Burning oil and gas to produce electricity is very costly. Fossil fuel-fired power stations produce