Trash is an ever-growing problem in our world. We humans consume so much daily, and the trash that accumulates is phenomenal. The dumpsites are basically mountains of trash, and we can only recycle a small portion of it. So, what do we do with the rest? Well, some have suggested throwing it all into a volcano. The lava should burn it all up, right? Not so fast.
Is a volcano hot enough to burn our trash?
Hawaii is home to many active volcanos. This means they experience eruptions regularly. In 2018, the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii erupted. The lava that came from it was over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This is extremely hot, much more than the surface of Planet Venus. Rocks do not stand a chance against this kind of heat, and most of them will melt away in no time at all. This might make a great opportunity to burn some trash, as the typical waste incinerator burns between 1,800 and 2200 degrees Fahrenheit.
So, why have we not been doing this all along? Well, the answer might be that not all volcanos burn at the same temperature. Some produce a different kind of lava that bears a much lower heat. Some volcanos, like Mount St Helens in Washington State, produce dacite lava, burned at 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time, the Kilauea volcano produces a type of lava called Basalt.
Americans make a staggering amount of trash every year. According to statistics, an American produces approximately 4.5 pounds of trash per day, which translates to about 1,792 pounds of waste per person each year. This amount of trash includes food waste, paper products, plastic packaging, and other materials that are discarded daily. The global population is constantly rising, making it crucial to find a sustainable solution to the amount of waste added to the already mountainous landfills.
Read: More than 90% of trash in North Pacific Garbage Patch comes from just six countries
Is it wise to meddle with nature?
It might not seem that absurd to dump our trash into erupting volcanoes. Provided they produce enough heat. Aside from that, why else would throwing our trash into volcanos be a bad idea? Well, not all trash can be melted, even at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Materials like wood, paper, plastic, and food scraps will surely melt- but what about metals like steel, iron, and nickel?
Secondly, not all volcanoes are shaped the same. Some, like the typical science fair volcano model, are long and cylindrical. These are called stratovolcanoes. These volcanoes are particularly temperamental in that they occasionally erupt quite explosively. Now, imagine we dumped our trash in the hole. The volcano would shoot out lava-hot trash debris. Hypothetically, the ideal volcanos to incinerate our trash would be shield volcanoes. These do not erupt but rather spew lava out slowly.
Lastly, if you’re thinking about trying this out for size instead of utilizing the waste disposal services provided by the government, think again. Even if you were able to reach the lave lake without melting to death, it is very dangerous to throw cool temperatures trash into hot lava. You might cause an explosion from which you might not live to tell the tale. The example below shows scientists throwing a 66-pound bag into the lava, which made an incredible explosion.
That was only one US family’s three days worth of trash. Imagine if you add in a whole neighborhood’s worth of accumulated trash. It would generate a deadly explosion threatening far more than just the people disposing of the trash.
- “Why don’t we just throw all our garbage into volcanoes?” Pop Sci. Mary Beth Griggs. November 20, 2015.
- “Why can’t we throw all our trash into a volcano and burn it up?” Down to Earth. Emily Johnson. January 04 2022.