Humans are very wasteful of the Earth’s resources. What most of us think of as trash, however, is a small fraction of the total amount of waste, both in the United States and worldwide.
Municipal waste, what we put in our garbage cans and recycling bins, is far outweighed by the waste of natural resources by the manufacturing and construction industries, by agriculture, by energy production, by mining, and by water purification and distribution.
Science magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, published a 45-page special section entitled “Working with Waste” in its Aug. 10, 2012 edition. Those papers and reports provided a good overview of the scientific and technical fight against waste.
Six of the scientifically trained members of the Arizona Senior Academy have volunteered to review and summarize those papers and present the contents to a non-technically-trained audience. The presentations will start at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 28, and Thursday, Nov. 29.
On Wednesday, Drew Potter, a planetary scientist, will introduce the series by discussing the statistics of wastefulness – how much of what kind of waste is produced by different parts of the world and the relation between waste and the relative wealth of the population. He will then review the efforts of one county in Maryland to deal with its waste problem in a comprehensive and cost-effective manner.
Potter will be followed by Ted Hullar, an environmental chemist, who will talk about water reclamation and taking the “waste” out of wastewater for both human security and ecosystem sustainability.
At the end of the Wednesday session, Wayne Magee, a molecular biologist, will summarize the articles about human wastes, dealing with “greener” toilets and the problems of acceptance of recycled water by the populace.
Three more talks are scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Fred Neidhardt, a microbiologist, will discuss the conversion of waste into bioelectricity and useful chemicals.
Neidhardt will be followed by Charles Prewitt, a geophysicist, who will summarize the challenges of re-using the wastes from mining and mineral processing.
Finally, Marcia Neugebauer, a space plasma physicist, will summarize the remaining topics in the special issue of Science. Her topics include getting the nitrogen out of wastewater, the recycling of polypropylene plastic and of metals, deriving more value from bio-wastes, and the recapture or sequestration of carbon dioxide from power plants.
Submitted by Marcia Neugebauer, Academy Village Volunteer