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Waste disposal and environmental health risks:
a complex situation

Our environment is sensitive, and affects our health in numerous ways. Understanding environmental health issues helps us to improve protection.

Many chemical, physical and biological agents that can have damaging effects on human health are present in the environment (home, work, food, water, air, etc.). Some of these are released by waste processing. The volume of household waste produced in France doubled between 1960 and 2000. By 2004, it had reached around 353 kg per person per annum, compared with around 100 kg per capita in the developing world. The more industrialised the country, the lower the proportion of organic matter and the higher the amount of packaging. Household waste and corporate waste are the most complicated to process because of the huge variety of matter and materials.

In France, waste management is governed by two main laws derived partly from EU directives. A directive in 2008 (not yet transposed into French law) states that materials and energy should be recovered from waste but that the emphasis should be on reducing waste at source. Waste should be re-used, recycled and upgraded, especially to generate energy and, as a last resort, disposed of in landfills.

In 2004, around 80% of household waste in France was incinerated or stored, which is not without danger: incineration generates energy, but it also produces potentially hazardous wastes.

©Prescrire September 2009

Source: "Déchets ménagers : toujours plus, et toujours incinérés ou mis en décharge" Rev Prescrire 2009; 29 (310): 590-594.

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