Featured image credit: Dr. Richard Roscoe, Photovolcanica.com.
I recently came across this video clip by Dr. Richard Roscoe. Dr. Roscoe is a gentleman who takes pictures of volcanos. In the video clip, some well-meaning folks try to dispose of garbage by throwing it into a volcano. You can see the garbage sailing down towards the lava lake and then watch as the volcano begins to erupt in response.
Dr. Roscoe’s video clip eloquently demonstrates the silliness of throwing garbage in a volcano. Luckily, it doesn’t happen very often. Dr. Roscoe told me that he doesn’t know of any other instance where folks use volcanos for garbage disposal.
Slate has a pretty clear smackdown of the idea of using volcanos as incinerators. Shipping the quantities of garbage that modern, western societies produce up to the edge of active volcanos is an expensive and dangerous endeavor. Arranging for a stable dumping station near the edge of a volcanic crater would also be dangerous. Not all volcanos burn at a high enough temperature to incinerate waste without releasing lots of pollutants. No matter how hot a volcano burns, it would be devastatingly difficult to equip the volcano with modern air pollution control devices (I feel somewhat stupid even writing such a statement). And finally, throwing large amounts of waste into a volcano creates the chance that the volcano might be destabilized and erupt.
The idea of using volcanos as incinerators is so ridiculous I almost didn’t write about it, but I think there are some pearls here. The important insight that can be derived from this inane conversation about tossing garbage into volcanos is that it puts in perspective the work modern incinerators do. Volcanos, with their fiery lava, booming explosions, deadly mudflows, and near-global atmospheric effects, are not destructive enough to do a good job getting rid of garbage.