Aim: This section gives information on type of waste, which is generated due to human activities and reaches the environment via soil, water or other surroundings. And their impact on human health.

3.4 Waste – Various type of waste generated on the planet, impact our environment differently. Some of them are as follows

3.4.1 General waste or waste in Landfills: Landfills have the potential to cause a number of issues infrastructure disruption, such as damage to access roads by heavy vehicles, may occur. Pollution of local roads and water courses from wheels on vehicles when they leave the landfill can be significant pollution of the local environment, such as contamination of groundwater or aquifers or soil contamination may occur, as well.

  • Leachate: When precipitation falls on open landfills, water percolates through the garbage and becomes contaminated with suspended and dissolved material, forming leachate. If this is not contained it can contaminate groundwater.

  • Decomposing Gases: Rotting food and other decaying organic waste creates decomposition gases, especially CO2 and CH4 from aerobic and anaerobic decomposition, respectively. Landfill gases can seep out of the landfill and into the surrounding air and soil.  Methane is a greenhouse gas , Carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. In properly managed landfills, gas is collected and flared or recovered for landfill gas utilisation.

  • Vectors: Poorly run landfills may become nuisances because of vectors such as rats and flies which can spread infectious diseases.

Other potential issues include wildlife disruption, dust, odor, noise pollution and reduced local property values

3.4.2: Plastics: The amount of garbage in the world increases as the population grows, and disposable plastic products, like water bottles and soda cans, accumulate over time. Plastic pollution occurs when enough plastic has gathered in an area that it affects the natural environment and harms plants, animals, or humans. Below are the ways in which plastic enters our body and how plastic pollution affects human health :

1) We eat plastic contaminated seafood

Microplastics have been found in 114 marine species, and almost one-third of these end up on our plates. Some of the chemicals added to plastic to increase its performance are considered endocrine disruptors – chemicals that affect normal hormone function – while some retardants may interfere with brain development in children.

2) We consume plastic via packaging

BPAs are present in many plastic objects that come in direct contact with food, including plastic packaging, kitchenware and the inner coatings of beverages. BPA is metabolised in the liver to form Bisphenol A and it exits our body through urine. The main problem is that – as previously mentioned – BPA is an endocrine disruptor. The human endocrine system regulates a number of essential body functions including: metabolism, heart rate, digestion, fertility. BPAs released from plastic pollution cause severe health effects, leading to consumer movements worldwide demanding BPA-free packaging.

3) We drink microplastics via bottled water

The World Health Organisation (WHO) was reported to be reviewing research in 2018 which exposed the presence of microplastics in 90% of bottled water which had been tested - only 17 of the 259 tested were free of plastics. Today while there is not enough evidence on the impact of microplastics on human health, most scientists agree that it is an emerging area of concern and that if thousands of species worldwide are dying because of it, it can’t be that good for us either.

4) We absorb plastic through our clothes

The Global Apparel Fiber Consumption published research which highlights that – out of 100,000 kg of fibres consumed worldwide in one year – 70% are synthetic.  Synthetic fibres such as polyester, acrylic, rayon and nylon are derived from petroleum – yes, the same oil that we feed our cars – and are a type of plastic. Many synthetic fabrics are treated with thousands of harmful toxic chemicals during production, Our skin is the largest and most permeable organ in our bodies and can absorb up to 60% of the substances we put in direct contact with it. Furthermore, synthetic fabrics don’t allow your skin to breathe, trapping odors and acting as a perfect environment for bacteria to grow.  

5) We breathe plastic

Where there is poor waste management, people often have no choice but to burn their trash in the open air. This is a very common practice that allows chemicals from plastic to easily enter the body as we breathe normally.

See this report in the National Geographic We Made Plastic. We Depend on It. Now We’re Drowning in It.

Case Study

Open burning of waste is still a common practice in Lebanon, leading to carcinogen released into the atmosphere. This video titled “Lives at Risk: Open Burning of Waste in Lebanon” by Human Rights Watch educates the viewers on the severe health risks of open burning of waste of plastics and tires among nearby residents.

3.4.3 E-WasteE-waste, or electronic waste is the name for electronic products that have come towards the end of their “useful life.” This can include computers, monitors, televisions, stereos, copiers, printers, fax machines, cellphones, dvd player, cameras, batteries, and many more electronic devices. Used electronic devices can be reused, resold, salvaged, recycled or disposed. Discarded electrical and electronic equipment and components, known collectively as e-waste, are the most rapidly increasing sources of waste worldwide.

Exposure to e-waste might occur directly via recycling or indirectly via ecological exposure. A large proportion of e-waste is shipped to less developed countries for dumping or recycling. Much e-waste recycling occurs in the informal sector, in homes where women and children are engaged in unsafe recycling practices without the benefit or the knowledge of exposure-minimizing technology or protective equipment. High levels of environmental contamination can occur from e-waste recycling, putting residents in surrounding areas at risk of ecological exposure via inhalation or ingestion of contaminated water, air, and food supplies.In addition to risks of injuries, potential exposures include the original constituents of the equipment, substances added during the recovery process, and substances formed as a result of the recycling process. Concern about the effects on health of chemical exposure to e-waste and e-waste recycling is increasing despite the paucity of solid research. Reported adverse effects include: fetal loss, prematurity, low birthweight, and congenital malformations; abnormal thyroid function and thyroid development; neurobehavioural disturbances; and genotoxicity. However, few direct studies have been undertaken. Children and developing fetuses are particularly susceptible and evidence of adverse effects in early life via ecological exposure is increasing.

Case Study

Professor Richard Neitzel and his interdisciplinary team at the University of Michigan has been studying e-waste recycling in hope to identify health hazards for workers and help them improve their working conditions. Please watch this video to have a better understanding of Professor Neitzel’s project.

3.4.4 Hazardous Waste: The occurrence of adverse health effects is dependent on the way the hazardous chemical enters the body. Some hazardous chemicals absorb rapidly through the skin, while others don’t at all. The toxicity of a chemical also determines the effect on the body. There are many hazardous chemicals are toxic in very small amounts, whereas others can have large volumes of exposure before there is a reaction. Up to 300 man-made chemicals have been found in the average human. Having hazardous chemicals in the human body causes adverse reactions to fetuses, children, adolescents, adults and the elderly but the reaction each may have varies. A fetus and young child is more susceptible to adverse reactions than an adult because their developing organs may be permanently damaged. Some potential health conditions in people of all ages include:

  • Behavior abnormalities

  • Cancer

  • Physiological malfunctions (e.g., kidney failure, reproductive impairment)

  • Genetic mutations

  • Physical deformations

  • Birth defects

By not disposing of hazardous waste properly, these same wastes will likely circle back around and could affect you or your family ten-fold, is that a risk worth taking?


Landfill - Have been picked from Wikipedia, due to simpler explanation and no data.

Plastics -

E-Waste & Hazardous and chemical -

WHO - Healthy environments for healthier populations: Why do they matter, and what can we do?

Last modified: Monday, June 7, 2021, 11:37 AM