The year is 2060. Plastic waste and other types of solid waste have filled up the planet's landfills. A solution is proposed: load up more than 95% of solid waste on Earth on to a space shuttle and then send into space. Obviously, this will be an unmanned expedition, as this shuttle will exit the solar system in about 3 years and will never return to Earth. Politicians and ecologists both love the idea because we're getting rid of solid waste in a seemingly easy method. For the sake of this question, assume that this kind of technology and funding is ready. Also assume that all of the solid waste has already been collected from every corner of the globe and is ready to be loaded.

However, to pass 97 out of the current 193 (a simple majority) UN members must vote to send the shuttle off. Does the vote pass and thus launch the shuttle? Are there any possible obstacles/reasons any government would object to this? Also assume that no government has to pay any money for the shuttle.

Edit: Assume that some higher power is paying for the shuttle, so the costs of the shuttle are taken care of. Also assume that this is more of a one time thing, so trash is sent up to space once, you won't be seeing the shuttle or the trash ever again.

closed as too broad by Bryan McClure, James, bowlturner, Hohmannfan, Frostfyre Mar 10 '16 at 19:53

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • @XandarTheZenon sorry for the sarcasm. I know you mean well :) – fi12 Feb 28 '16 at 3:36
  • I'll just say that this seems a little bit unlikely, although it will make for a good story. If I was given a similar prompt, I'd probably engineer a super bacteria to rid us of the trash, then make it go horribly wrong... :) – Xandar The Zenon Feb 28 '16 at 3:37
  • Please calculate the amount of trash vs the capacity of one vehicle. – JDługosz Feb 28 '16 at 9:30
  • Yeah I agree with JD, the volume of garbage makes this completely implausible. You could launch a rocket with modern tech fully loaded with trash every day for 1000 years and the pile of garbage would actually get bigger, the launches wouldn't even be a noticeable blip on a graph of overall garbage volume – James Mar 10 '16 at 17:00

Sending things into space is extravagantly expensive. From our sister site, it costs roughly \$16,000 per kilogram to send something into space (on a Proton-M. Other launch vehicles cost more per kilogram). The space shuttle clocked in at roughly \$18,000. Without a major improvement in efficiency of launch vehicles beyond Space-X's wildest dreams, it just won't be cost effective (and Space-X dreams big). We collect 1,200,000kg of trash every day in the US, meaning every day's trash is \$21 billion worth of rocketeering. A year's worth of US trash would be $5.5 trillion to launch, one third of the entire national debt.

You say no government has to pay any money. Who's paying for it? Can the shuttle be requisitioned for other uses? That's a lot of powerful technology that could be used for far better causes.

If there is something in play in your world which ensures this is a one time offer and can only be used to transport trash, or nothing at all, with no alternative uses or anything like that, then the decision of the UN will be markedly dependent on what that something is. When you are talking about something capable of expending an amount of power well beyond the entire rest of the globe, which is choosing to be a glorified garbage man. Its terms will dictate a lot.

  • I edited the question to address your concerns. Another thing, I wasn't really looking for cost-effectiveness in the answer; rather I was wondering if their were any reasons a country would NOT agree to the shuttle being sent up into space. – fi12 Feb 28 '16 at 2:57

What if the shuttle has a catastrophic failure and explodes? Assuming that most of the trash is carbon-based, this would add a lot of burning carbon to the atmosphere all at once. This is one reason why we don't just shoot nuclear waste into the sun, which would be much more feasible than this project.

I wouldn't shoot the waste into outer space. If you put it on Mars, then you'd have raw materials for use in terraforming. If you take the waste out of the solar system, then it should be because the "higher power" providing the shuttle wants the waste for some reason. Also be aware that it's not reasonable to transport raw materials between stars. For that kind of energy consumption, it would be simpler to create the materials locally.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.