The Resource

exclude large groups of wastes (such as agricultural and "nonhazardous" wastes). They also lack consistency, as substances are often added to or subtracted from these lists. Still, these definitions are commonly used by the trade associations and government agencies that collect data. Their surveys usually concentrate on waste materials that are deemed hazardous or are suspected of being so.

A second obstacle is that the collection of waste data is not centralized or comprehensive. To calculate the total amount of waste, several data sources must be consulted. One reason for this is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose efforts to collect waste data are the most comprehensive in the United States, collects information on waste generation and disposal along program lines established by legislative edict. The Office of Air and Radiation, Office of Water, Office of Solid Waste, and Office of Toxic Substances individually and independently track the wastes governed by their programs, as follows:

Air emissions governed under the Clean Air Act are tracked in the Office of Air and Radiation. Water discharges regulated by the Clean Water Act are recorded by the Office of Water. Information on the solid wastes governed by RCRA can be found in the Office of Solid Waste. Data on toxic chemical releases reported under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act are collected in the Office of Toxic Substances.

These offices do not normally coordinate their data collection and analysis efforts, though data on some materials are collected by more than one office. The data on RCRA hazardous wastes may be gathered on a wet weight basis, so a significant amount of water is included in those totals. The waste generation information collected by other offices is on a dry weight basis, so comparison and coordination of the data are difficult.

An effort to determine the amount of waste generated in the United States must begin by selecting the wastes to include. The working definition of industrial waste can be confined primarily to solid wastes regulated under RCRA. The contributions of other wastes are less significant on a weight basis. For example, wastes emitted to the air total about 20 million tons, not including the normal constituents such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen, less than 0.2% of the total estimated waste stream. Although discharges to water are significant in terms of volume and weight, the actual amount of waste is a very small fraction of the total; the discharges are essentially water with relatively minor amounts of contaminants. In addition, most, if not all, of the toxic substances for which disposal data are recorded by the Office of Toxic Substances are also regulated under RCRA and total about 6 million tons. Therefore, wastes found in air and water and toxic wastes were not included in calculating the annual generation of industrial waste.

In addition, there are other factors that inhibit the calculation of the industrial waste stream. The following information is important to understanding how the 14.7 billion ton estimate was derived.

In a 1988 report to Congress on solid waste disposal in the United States [1], EPA reports an estimated annual generation rate of 7.8 billion tons of industrial nonhazardous waste. In its analysis, EPA includes wastes generated by utilities, namely electric power generating and water treatment facilities. The amount of oil and gas wastes generated in the United States is reported in another report to Congress [2], This document reports estimates made by EPA and by the American Petroleum Institute. EPA's estimates of the amount of drilling waste generated in the exploration, development, and production of crude oil and natural gas were chosen for inclusion. The amount of water generated in these activities is also reported, but was omitted from the calculation as it is predominantly water with a high saline content and is often

Legend

Figure 2 Municipal solid waste components.

H Paper

^ Plastic j j Rubber and Leather ■ Textiles

H w°od H Food Waste

Yard Waste

Yard Waste

H Glass

H Metals

| Miscellaneous

Figure 2 Municipal solid waste components.

discharged to surface waters, used for agricultural purposes, or consumed in the production process.

Each of the surveys from which data were taken was conducted once, so the estimates recorded in Figure 1 are snapshots of the waste generation in a single year. A complicating factor is that the data refer to practices in different years. In addition, much of the data are now close to 10 years old.

The total 1.4 billion tons of mining wastes excludes coal mining wastes, which were not included in Ref. 3.

In Ref. 1, EPA reports that 2 billion tons of feedlot wastes are generated annually. The amount of these wastes that were used as fertilizer on fields in unknown. No estimate of crop residues is included.

The 750 million tons of hazardous waste reported in Ref. 4 includes wastes regulated under RCRA as well as wastes regulated under the Clean Water Act. Much of this waste is mixed with water; however, the relative percentages of wastes and water are unknown. The 196.7 million tons of residential, commercial, and institutional waste reported in Ref. 5 represents 1990 data.

Some of these limitations are a result of the data collection methods used. EPA's goal is to protect human health and the environment; data on the characteristics and amount of waste are collected in its efforts to determine risk. Thus, waste generation data are largely a by-product of EPA's attempts to meet its goals. EPA's methods and priorities limit the breadth of the data and its usefulness for quantifying the amount of waste generated in the United States.

Organic Gardeners Composting

Organic Gardeners Composting

Have you always wanted to grow your own vegetables but didn't know what to do? Here are the best tips on how to become a true and envied organic gardner.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment