A Mercer University environmental health class recently took a field trip to the Macon landfill to learn about the management of landfills and the environmental impact of human waste. The class, taught by Dr. Chinekwu Obidoa, introduces students to key environmental health issues, primarily those that result from the activities of humans.
In June of 2013 and January of 2014, the Macon landfill failed routine inspections due to factors such as water pollution and exposed waste. The landfill does not have a liner because it was built before all landfills in the country were required to have a liner system, which makes protecting the surrounding areas from pollution a very difficult task. This year, however, county employees have taken steps to renovate the landfill, increasing both safety and efficiency. As a result, the landfill received a passing score after its most recent inspection in July.
During their trip to the landfill, Obidoa’s students had the opportunity to observe the landfill’s unresolved issues alongside its recent improvements.
“A lot of my students were worried (about the landfill) – the reports we read together in class and some of the video coverage we viewed made it seem like such an awful place,” said Obidoa. “However, the facility was clean, and its management was much more organized than we expected, given the challenge of maintaining a landfill.”
County officials plan to close the landfill within the next eight to nine years in favor of more sophisticated waste management options, including a recycling program.
As the Macon landfill rapidly runs out of space, Obidoa stresses the importance of involvement in environmental advocacy.
“We are living in a world that is crying for attention and care,” said Obidoa. “When we sit in our homes and watch the news, we see so many (stories about) environmental problems – I want Mercer students to know that this is something that we can’t push away anymore. We are part of the global community, and everything we do or fail to do affects the type of ‘home’ our children will inherit from us.”
Obidoa suggests that students limit their waste production by reusing items, recycling and composting. “Reuse items as often as possible,” Obidoa said. “Hang on to old shoes and electronic equipment longer. Share things and use hand me downs. Before you throw something away, think of where it will eventually end up.”
Although the city does not currently have a recycling program, students can deliver soda cans to Schnitzer Steel, a recycling business with two Macon locations. At home, students can encourage their parents to begin composting, the process of using food scraps as fertilizer for gardening.
The visit to the landfill provided Dr. Obidoa’s students with first-hand exposure to the detrimental effects of improper waste management. One student, Morgan White, describes the field trip as “staggering” in a report that she submitted for class: “This experience… has opened a lot of people’s eyes to what we as humans are doing to the environment and, in turn, our health.”
In the future, Obidoa would like to see Mercer students become more involved in environmental conservation. “Many college campuses in America have environmental clubs,” said Obidoa. “I would love to see that kind of awareness taking shape at Mercer. Mercer has always been at the cutting edge of innovation in Macon – people look toward Mercer for change. If Mercer takes a stand for the protection of our environment, chances are that the community will, too.”