Many people are starting to get on board with the idea of using less trash. You probably cart around a reusable water bottle and recycle any plastic containers you come across. So you’re good right? Well maybe not. Chances are you are generating more garbage than you think. The average person produces 4.3 pounds of waste per day. And what happens to that garbage after you take it the curb matters. Our toss it and forget it mentality hurts our oceans, pollutes our air, and fuels an ignorant bliss that even the most earth-friendly Green Monsters are susceptible to. So what really happens to the garbage that we toss? And what can do about it?
We Bury It
The empty tube of toothpaste that you’ve finished, the sleeve on your disposable coffee cup, the scrapings of your dinner plate – all this and more ends up in the garbage and most likely in a landfill. More than half of America’s garbage is destined for landfills. Landfills are exactly what they sound like – large patches of land filled with our trash. You might imagine a large mound of refuse slowly decomposing over time – and while that was the original idea, the reality is quite different.
Landfills actually preserve trash better than they break it down. The purpose of a landfill is to bury the trash in such a way that it will be isolated from groundwater, will be kept dry and will not be in contact with air. Under these conditions, trash does not decompose much. Even food waste which might decompose quickly in your backyard can remain intact after 30-40 years in a landfill. Landfills also produce methane, a greenhouse gas 22 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But that’s not all, other hazardous air pollutants are released into the air as well. According to the EPA, landfill gas (LFG) contains carbon dioxide, methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), and odorous compounds that can adversely affect public health and the environment. Continuing to accumulate mass quantities of waste in landfills without a plan is a little bit like forgetting to take the garbage out … except on a much, much larger scale!
We Burn It
Garbage incinerators were once considered a thing of the past but are making a comeback with waste to energy facilities on the rise. Though the idea of turning garbage into renewable energy sounds appealing and might even sound ideal (think Sweden), it is not without downsides. Even new incinerators release toxic metals, dioxins, and acid gases that can be detrimental to people’s health. This might be a promising way to go in the future, but it isn’t perfect yet.
We (Accidentally) Dump it in the Ocean
Some of our garbage, typically plastic, actually ends up in the ocean. How does it get there? Factories leak it, beaches are covered in it, and roadside litter (even the small amounts accidentally left behind by the garbage truck) ends up in storm drains. These lead directly to – you guessed it – the ocean. There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean, of that mass, 270,000 tons float on the surface. It is estimated that around 80 percent of all trash produced on land will end up in the oceans, 90 percent of which is plastic. Considering that 700 marine species are currently endangered with extinction due to plastic pollution, this is no small matter.
So What Can You Do?
Think beyond glass bottles and cans of soup. You may be tossing out household items that can actually be recycled. Cereal boxes, toilet paper rolls, and junk mail should all be recycled wherever possible. Only recycling items with a number 1 or 2 on it? Find out what your town will recycle and how they need it collected. You may find out that they accept more than you knew.
Compost Food Waste
Around 33 million tons of food waste ends up in a landfill each year – that’s an alarming statistic. Especially when you consider the benefits of using and composting food waste in your kitchen and garden. Composting food scraps will help you cut down and garbage and will make you more mindful of how much of the food we use versus waste. It might even inspire you to plant a garden if you haven’t already.
Use Less Plastic
The average American throws away 185 pounds of plastic per year. An estimated eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean each year. Reusable water bottles are helpful, but not the only way to reduce your plastic use. Look around your pantry and cleaning cabinets for other ways to cut down on plastic.
Buy Less Stuff
We can all live happier lives if we just buy less stuff. Living simply will produce less garbage and may open your eyes to how much we really don’t need. Next time you buy something, think about what kind of garbage it will produce in its lifespan. Think about where your garbage goes and how long it stays there once it leaves your sight. You might just change the way you feel about the things we “have to have.”
Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.
Lead image source: Flickr