Of all the many kinds of waste, what's the most toxic garbage that humans produce?

Here are five top-of-the-line forms of waste that experts think the world is buckling under.

The world is one massive pile of garbage.

Apart from the bags of garbage that are trashed from our homes every day, there are Olympic pool-sized cocktails of plastic, junked metal, shit, dead animals and stained rags of polyester that are tossed out every single day. And that's saying nothing about the lakes of industrial, biohazard and radioactive waste that also get disposed of.

That isn't going to stop anytime soon. But a new report in Earther looks at what are the absolute worst, most toxic kinds of trash around.

To a geographer

According to John Lepawsky, a Geography professor and lead researcher of the Reassembling Rubbish project, bags of waste are as unique as the people that generate them. The harm that these different kinds of waste can cause is equally unique.

Yet, some forms have a much worse reputation than others do. Bags of household waste have a varying amount of chemicals from cleaning products that are both poisonous and lethal to living things.

 Of all the many kinds of waste, whats the most toxic garbage that humans produce?

A stash of household junk & cleaning products.

"When you look at the statistics for death and injury on the job, being a trash collector is about as dangerous as being a firefighter," he told Earther. 

Radioactive waste from nuclear generators is a popular choice for "worst waste" thanks to how long they linger once disposed of. Yet, some plastics and chemicals products made from it end up in landfills could outlive them.

Another waste found in pesticides, herbicides, and industrial solvents is persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which can travel enormous distances and harm people and wildlife that are not linked to the source in any way. What's more, they accumulate in living cells.

To a paleobiologist

According to Jan Zalasiewicz, a Paleobiology professor at the University of Leicester, the most dangerous trash is the kind we can't see, feel, smell, or touch: the roughly trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If that volume were visualised as a band of pure carbon dioxide blanketing the Earth, it would be one-metre thick, Zalasiewicz says. And it's getting thicker for now.

The proof of its toxicity is already something the world is seeing — global warming, oceans growing acidic and triggering unexpected effects on the weather.

Representational image. Image courtesy: World Bank

We're cooking and being baked in carbon dioxide. Image courtesy: World Bank

"Unless we actively remove it, this extra, unwanted, carbon dioxide will be there for many thousands of years," she says. "With this particular trash, it really is time to clean up."

To an environmental scientist

Travis Wagner, a professor at the University of Southern Maine's Department of Environmental Science & Policy thinks the heat, the radioactivity and the toxicity of nuclear waste make it the obvious winner. What's worse, the technology that can fully treat or neutralise it still doesn't exist.

Nuclear waste needs to be managed — allowed to decay in isolation from anywhere between a few days to thousands of years. For several decades now, deep pools of water (> 70 percent) or steel-concrete casks (<30 percent) have been the two main ways that nuclear waste has been temporarily handled.

In a changing world, with climate change pounding on our doors, Wagner thinks there's no guarantee that the growing volume of toxic, nuclear waste will stay leak-proof for any 10,000-year period. And that's when the trouble begins.

Nuclear waste is hole that we're burying ourselves deeper in by the day. Image courtesy: Energy Transitions

Nuclear waste is a hole we're burying ourselves deeper into with every passing day. Image courtesy: Energy Transitions

To a chemist

Joseph Gardella, a Professor at the University of Buffalo's Department of Chemistry, thinks that plastics made from petroleum are some of the most insidious and dangerous kinds of waste around. The bulk of the plastic packaging and trash in today's landfills were made from petroleum byproducts in the 1930s-1950s. Apart from their criminally-lengthy shelf-life, many of these plastics are also carcinogenic.

Yet, the petroleum industry, much like the plastic that it produces, refuses to die and roll with the times. Biodegradable plastics aren't subsidised or incentivised enough, and plastic still remains far cheaper in comparison.

Oceans and marine life are experiencing the worst effects of plastic pollution so far, and there's no end in sight as far as cleaning it all up goes.

Semi-permanent islands made of ropes, buoys and other detritus continue to form in the Pacific Ocean 15 years after the Great Pacific garbage patch was first discovered in 1997 Image courtesy: Algalita

Semi-permanent islands made of ropes, buoys and other detritus continue to form in the Pacific Ocean 15 years after the Great Pacific garbage patch was first discovered in 1997. Image courtesy: Algalita

To a civil engineer

According to Ryan Dupont Professor, a Civil and Environmental Engineering at Utah State University, the most noxious kind of waste is single-use plastic — bags and films that are made from non-renewable sources.

Apart from being very difficult to dispose of, they also travel great distances since they're light and easily carried by wind and water. They also wear and tear pretty quickly, leaving behind beads and fibres that are easy enough to contaminate drinking water sources and marine habitats.

"For many, many reasons, elimination of this waste component of our modern trash is not only feasible but the right thing to do," Dupont told Earther.

And there we have it. Five top-of-the-line toxic wastes that we're still buckling under.

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