Why Don’t We Throw Trash in Volcanoes?
Okay, humans, we make a lot of garbage, and we don’t have any perfect solutions for what to do with it. So, instead of just putting it under the ground, why don’t we just throw it into the volcanoes? Well, as convenient as burning our trash into oblivion might sound, a couple of major reasons to consider. For one thing sending all that trash to the nearest active Volcano could get pretty expensive, especially because lots of places are thousands of kilometers away from a volcano while most cities send their trash tens or hundreds of kilometres to landfills. Some cities also burn a lot of their trash in incineration plants and use that heat to make electricity, so electric bills could go up if we started using volcanoes instead. But different places already handle trash differently, so why don’t cities near volcanoes just use them as big flaming trash piles? Well, cost isn’t the only problem here. Volcanoes aren’t usually the bubbling pits of exposed lava that you see in movies and cartoons. Many volcanoes just look like mountains or hills with a crater near the top and if the craters are filled with anything, liquid water is more common than a lava lake. So you would have to wait for those kinds of volcanoes to erupt and then drop your trash in, which is incredibly dangerous; lots of those eruptions can be pretty violent. Or you can try to drill down into a Volcano’s magma chamber, where the Molten rock sits under lots of pressure until eruption. Given how hard it is to predict what exactly will flip a volcano’s switch, drilling down into that super pressurized chamber or shooting trash into the magma probably aren’t great ideas either. Other kinds of volcanoes like Kilauea in Hawaii have pretty constant calm lava flows. But even though slow-moving lava might seem like a safer and easier way to get rid of garbage, there is another big issue. Clumps of organic matter like food scraps don’t just burn when they hit lava, they explode. Very sadly there is little research into why these explosions happen, but there are plenty of experiments and YouTube videos that show pretty clearly that they do, which does not mean that you should, like, give it a try for fun. The most likely explanation is that any water in the trash immediately boils when it hits some thousand-degree molten lava. That steam expands, forcing the trash and lava out of the way to create an explosive fountain of molten rock. But we don’t know for sure, so get on it science! What we do know is that with your average american generating a couple of kilograms of trash a day, that would be a lot of exploding lava. Not to mention the stuff that probably wouldn’t explode, like plastic, tends to give off dangerous fumes when burned, which is a whole other problem. So even if you live near an active volcano and even if there’s lava at the surface and even if it sounds kind of cool, don’t use it as your garbage disposal. A controlled science experiment or two may be fine but tons of trash creating noxious lava fountains, not so much. Thanks to our Patreon patrons for asking. If you would like to learn more about trash, you can check out our video on how we dealt with it over time a hundred percent without volcanoes. *SciShow Jingle*