Tuesday, September 04, 2007

the waste dilemma

From a science perspective, the topic of waste management is not as hotly debated as maybe Global Warming. Essentially, it comes down to the capacity for the earth to absorb wastes and the cost to implement this degradation, which can be modeled using various methods. An article from Nature magazine (Energy and the Entropy Business) makes the point that “The type of waste acceptable depends on a society’s priorities.” Also, the world is starting to realize that it is not realistic to remove all of the ammonia from wastewater, all of the phosphorus from soil, or all the carbon dioxide from the air. Therefore, the question remains: what levels for waste are acceptable? People from different disciplines will give many different answers, surely. However, this article acknowledges a scientific and realistic view:

“Wastes are disorder, entropy. They are, almost by definition, of little use or value. Any effort, energy, time, or other investment to handle and manage them implies cost. Economic forces have, therefore, argued for minimal waste management. However, this changes when other factors, notably space, become limiting: survival in a limited space requires appropriate waste handling….One can strive for total dissipation of molecular species and structures, possibly with minimal energy expenditure (or even energy gain)….The future options for waste treatment and management thus depend on the availability (price) of energy.”


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