As recently as the 1970s, “hazardous waste” was a rarely-heard term, nor was it an issue of serious concern for most people. Indeed, it was not until a series of tragedies occurred over the next few decades (think of Seveso, Italy and Bhopal, India) that the subject of hazardous waste and its safe management and disposal began to seep into public consciousness.
In the wake of these catastrophes, the public overwhelmingly began to demand answers. Government officials started working together to prevent future harm. We’ve seen a great deal of regulation instated for exactly that purpose thus far — TSCA, CERCLA, and RCRA, just to name a few —but what will the future hold for hazardous waste management and disposal?
Here’s a few predictions.
Less of it will be produced.
If we’ve learned anything by now, it’s that reducing hazardous waste production overall is a far better practice than trying to dispose of it properly. Hazardous waste generators have already started to substitute hazardous materials with non-hazardous materials, training their employees more thoroughly in proper manufacturing and handling processes, and rethinking their operating practices entirely. 100 years from now, it’s likely that a focus on sustainability and eco-friendly practices will no longer be trendy; it will be the norm.
Reuse will be the hottest treatment option.
Ideally, new treatment technologies in the future will allow for hazardous waste to be reused much more efficiently. Today, most hazardous waste is landfilled or incinerated. 100 years from now, we can hope that an ever-increasing percentage of the hazardous components of a waste will be reused.
E-waste will be a major challenge.
The world has gone digital, and while that has presented most of us with incredible benefits and conveniences, it poses a serious environmental challenge. Technology changes rapidly nowadays, and what was popular and fashionable last year is outdated and boring this year. Unless someone introduces a comprehensive solution for e-waste disposal, this problem is only going to get worse as the years pass.
It will be something (nearly) everyone cares about.
Back in the 1970s—when “hazardous waste” was still shrouded in mystery and confusion, the public didn’t have the incredible access to information they have today. With the rise of the Information Age, people now have access to just about any kind of information they could possibly want—at any time, nearly anywhere in the world. As the public becomes better informed about environmental concerns, the issue of hazardous waste disposal and management will no longer belong to a small fraction of society. Environmental health benefits all, and once that has been commonly accepted, you can expect that (almost) everyone will end up on the same page.
Of course, the future is never certain. What are your predictions for the future of hazardous waste disposal?