FILE - In this May 11, 2015 file photo, nuclear waste is stored in underground containers at the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, Idaho. Federal officials say testing of a small-scale version of a key component of this eastern Idaho radioactive waste treatment facility that has so far failed to operate is making progress at finding a solution. The U.S. Department of Energy said Wednesday, June 28, 2017, that results from testing at Hazen Research near Denver, Colo., will be used during planned tests at the Idaho facility later this year.
AS LEARNED commissions debate whether to declare a new human-dominated era of geological time – the Anthropocene – we are already making facts on and under the ground. Since plastics were widely introduced in the 1950s, we have dumped an estimated 4.9 billion tonnes into the environment. Most goes to landfill for future generations to unearth. But it is marine waste that has spurred public desire for action. Images from the BBC documentary Blue Planet II of marine wildlife snared by plastics are a visceral indictment of our throwaway culture.
Of all the industries that have relied on the 55-gallon drum, it was the U.S. chemical industry, which came of age during WWII, that introduced the drum into the popular imagination. By mid-century, chemical factories had matured into massive operations spanning acres. They ran continuously, churning out synthetic plastics and other materials unprecedented in their novelty and utility, but also in the quantity of their byproducts. Unregulated production systems were allowed to generate unusable, often dangerous wastes. Along with the landfill and the retention pond, the 55-gallon drum was the waste-management technology of the 20th century.