Sanitation and Mining—Two of the Most Under-Appreciated Jobs in America

garbage truckPart of what keeps a major metropolitan city going, day after day, is the removal of waste and garbage. New York City alone produces 33 million tons of garbage each year.

And so, the men and women who efficiently and continually remove the city’s scrap, waste, and debris each day are providing a vital service. Their jobs become particularly important in the summer months when food scraps and waste break down most rapidly into the breeding grounds for various pests and bacteria.

Transporting all of this garbage requires large amounts of energy. When combined with the various transit needs of New York residents, the city’s annual transportation fuel consumption now reaches 47 Gigajoules per person.

These transportation costs are only part of a large city’s vast power needs, though. New York City alone consumes roughly 2,800 PetaJoules of energy each year, or approximately 777,777,840 megawatt hours. Someone has to supply all of that power, and since most of America’s current energy mix comes from coal, gas, and nuclear, that means a serious amount of mining and drilling.

Overall, Americans currently depend on coal for 33.2% of their electricity generation, along with natural gas (32.7%), and nuclear (19.5%). That means Americans rely on coal and uranium miners, plus natural gas drillers, for 85.4% of their power.

Interestingly, those who hope to use wind power (currently 4.7% of electricity generation) and solar power (0.6%) also require the services of plenty of miners. That’s because wind turbines need plenty of steel—which requires lots of iron—as well as both metallurgical coal and steam coal (to generate the heavy-duty heat needed for a modern industrial furnace). And solar panels require plenty of metals and minerals, including arsenic, bauxite, boron, cadmium, copper, gallium, indium, molybdenum, lead, selenium, tellurium, and titanium.

Notably, the dynamos of wind turbines require their own, varied metals and minerals. The production of one large magnet dynamo necessitates significant amounts of bauxite, cobalt, copper, and molybdenum, plus rare earth elements like neodymium.

However, the array of metals and minerals needed to construct wind turbines and solar panels pales in comparison to the intricate piecework of a typical cell phone or laptop computer. The average cell phone requires dozens of minerals, as well as precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, and palladium.

What’s amazing is the sheer muscle work needed to extract all of these metals and minerals, plus the coal and natural gas needed to power the effort. Essentially, it is the miners—who bravely work as much as two miles underground each day—who provide these critical resources.

The nation should appreciate the hard, risky work of the miners and drillers who obtain the basic resources needed for such first world comfort, and the sanitation workers who ensure healthy day-to-day living conditions in our cities. Without them, daily life in America would be far less safe and secure.

Comments (2)

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    Good article . There seems to be a real disconnect in the minds of many that forget the seamless and critical services provided in our society come from advancements due to fossil fuels ,mineral’s , human ingenuity , and the rule of law .
    If the electric grid was down for a week (or less ) the country would have a nervous breakdown and the scary global warming promoters would be gone .
    There are those things mentioned in the article to appreciate and some real problems to solve .

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      Steven Capozzola


      Well said, Amber. Thanks. People need to make the connection between their everyday activities and the high-energy infrastructure that enables/supports them.

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