Land Pollution Facts And Statistics
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In previous articles, we have covered the definition of land pollution (i.e. degradation of land) and the 2 forms that land pollution takes – soil erosion and the loss of soil constituents.
We have also covered the various human-related factors for land pollution, including the following:
- the dumping of untreated waste at landfills
- non-sustainable agriculture and animal glazing practices
- mining activities and the improper disposal of mining waste
- soil erosion
Read more about the causes of land pollution.
As such, in this article, we will be focusing on the interesting statistics and facts about land pollution.
Land pollution facts and statistics on landfills
One area of land pollution facts and statistics involves the landfills, which are one of the main causes of land pollution through soil contamination.
According to the BBC in a 2011 article, the United Kingdom throws away about 15 million plastic bottles daily. And the majority of these bottles end up in the landfills. In fact, according to the Local Governement Association, as cited by BBC in 2007, UK disposed of more than 27 million tons of rubbish in their landfills every year.
According to land pollution facts and statistics from the United Nations, as cited in a 2007 CNN report, the United States sent about 53.4% of its 222 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW, i.e. every day trash from homes, schools, offices etc) to the landfills. At the same time, China was believed to have sent about 43% of its 148 million tons of municipal waste to the landfills. This situation made the U.S and China two of the top contributors to landfill waste worldwide.
In 2008, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that the US continued to produce large volumes of MSW – ie. 250 million tons of MSW in 2008. About 55% to 65% of this waste produced was estimated to be from residential homes, while 35% to 45% was estimated to be from commercial and institutional sources like offices, schools and hospitals.
The waste comprised of mainly organic materials (31% paper-related; 26% food and garden-related), while plastic made up 12%, both metals and rubber-leather-textile-related made up about 8% each, wood made 7%, glass made up 5%, and the remaining 3% was made up of miscellaneous waste. Of these 250 million tons of waste, about 54% (i.e. 135 million tons) was sent to the landfills.
With the developments in electronics technologies and the increasing availability of electronic gadgets to people all over the world today, the volume of e-waste (or electronic waste) being discarded is increasing. According to land pollution facts and statistics from EPA, in 2005, about 1.5 to 1.8 million tons of e-waste were discarded, mainly in the landfills. Today, e-waste forms about 2% of the MSW in US. These electronic waste introduce toxic substances like heavy metals (e.g. lead found in cathode ray tubes, mercury found in switches, cadium found in circuit boards, etc) into the landfills.
You might have read that modern landfills are designed with filtering systems, to keep potential contaminants contained within the landfills, and out of the surrounding land and underground water supplies. Nonetheless, according to land pollution facts and statistics by ZeroWasteAmerica (an environmental research organization that specializes in waste reduction), the existing designs of landfills (comprising a bottom liner, a leachate collection system and a cover) meant that they are predestined to fail. In other words, toxic substances from landfill waste often reach underground water supplies and surrounding land areas, causing water pollution and land pollution.
Some governments are attempting to give a new lease to life to old landfills. For example, Liverpool took on a major redevelopment project on a former landfill site, and turned the wasteland into a garden for the hosting of the famous Liverpool International Garden Festival in 1984. The event attracted more than 3 million visitors. Besides Liverpool, 70 landfill sites in US have also been turned into golf courses, according to a 2007 report by CNN.
Land pollution facts and statistics on soil erosion
Soil erosion is a form of land pollution and degradation – ie. through the loss of original soil constituents that give the soil its life-supporting capacity.
According to land pollution facts and statistics from the Worldwatch Institute, as cited by the United Nations Environment Programme in 1996, the earth loses as much as 24 billion tons of valuable topsoil yearly.
According to a 1995 study (known as the “Environmental and Economic Costs of Soil Erosion and Conservation Benefits”) by David Pimentel (professor of ecology at Cornell University) and his team, 30% of the world’s arable land had been lost as a result of erosion over the previous 40 years. As reported by the study, 2.5 cm of topsoil would take about 200 to 1000 years (or more) to form, nonetheless, the US was losing soil at rates 17 times greater than the speed at which it was being formed. The rate was even higher for countries in Asia, Africa and South America.
According to land pollution facts and statistics in Pimentel’s study, about 75 billion tons of soil worldwide was being eroded every year by wind and water, and most of the soil erosion took place on agriculture land due to non-sustainable agricultural practices. In turn, about 80% of the agriculture land in the world was affected by moderate to serious soil erosion, while about 10% of the world’s agriculture land experienced slight to moderate soil erosion.
This is problematic because soil erosion lowers the productivity of agriculture land. Extensive soil erosion can also render originally fertile land into barren land that can no longer support plant life and agriculture. In the worse cases, soil erosion can even bring about desertification. And with an increasing world population and higher demands for food, land degradation at these rates will magnify problems of food shortages and malnutrition, especially in the poorer third world countries.
According to Worldometers, the world lost more than 3.6 million hectares of arable land through soil erosion in the first seven months of 2011.
Land pollution facts and statistics on desertification
Desertification, the degradation of dry land, is another form of soil pollution.
According to a 2008 factsheet by the United Nations Convention To Combat Desertification, about 70% of the world’s dryland (i.e. about 3.6 thousand million hectares) had been degraded.
According to Worldometers, the world experienced more than 6.2 million hectares of desertification in the first 7 months of 2011.
While desertification occurs worldwide, it is more prevalent along the borders of semi-arid and arid lands in America (north and south), central Australia, Asia and Africa, according to land pollution facts and statistics by the University of Wisconsin. In fact, in Africa, about ¾ of the agriculture land has been degraded through desertification.
Read related articles on land pollution:
Most appalling land pollution scenes
If you have ever witnessed land pollution scenes that are either disturbing or heart-wrenching, share photos of these pollution scenes with our readers, so that the photos may open the eyes of those who are still unmoved about the environmental problems of the world today.
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