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Where is ‘away‘?

The law of the conservation of matter states that no atoms are created or destroyed; there is no such thing or place as ‘away’ (Dr Anne Miller 2001). So, when waste is thrown, flushed, washed or otherwise taken ‘away’, it merely ends up at another location.

On a global scale, material continually cycles around the global system; this is known as biogeochemical cycling. The images below show how water and carbon move around the globe. If pollution of the water or air occurs in one part of the world, it can affect others. Examples include acid rain, ozone depletion and concentrations of chemicals such as Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) in the environment. Emissions of greenhouses gases such as Carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere is another example which is leading to impacts such as climate change and the acidification of the seas.


The water cycle
The carbon cycle

If waste or pollution is created it will always take a lot more energy to clear it up once it becomes dispersed than if it can be contained when it is still in one place; for instance, on the surface of a highway on in highway drains, rather than dispersed in a river or groundwater. In some cases, clean up may not even be possible or practicable once a pollutant has entered the environment. Containment as close to the source as possible is therefore the best approach and is the basic principle behind the hierarchy of pollution control, see, Environmental protection operational strategies and techniques.