The American ideal towards going green hits a lot of roadblocks as a result of our toss and use lifestyle in the United States. We are consumers; we can’t deny it. We want the newest gadgets, the latest fads and the coolest everything. Unfortunately, this results in throwing away the old, as well as the packaging for the new. Add in the fact that the new eventually becomes the new old, as well as how much food and other things we waste, and the EPA estimates that every American throws nearly 5 pounds of material into the trash every single day. That could mean 7,000 pounds of trash going to a landfill every year for a family of four. Multiply that times all the people in the United States and the landfill space we are filling is staggering.
Why is Landfill Waste a Problem? Sending so much trash to landfills is a big problem. First, there is the environmental and economic cost of transporting all this junk. We have to use petroleum products, water and energy to make the trash bins. We have to waste resources to build thousands of garbage trucks. We waste fuel and emit greenhouse gases to run these trucks, and so on. Second, we have to put the trash somewhere. So, good land must be set aside to do nothing except hold our trash. Due to the slow decomposition rate in a landfill and the fact that such landfill ground is unstable, hundreds of acres of landfill property has already been rendered essentially useless for any other purpose for literally a thousand years! To deal with this space issue, the U.S. has started exporting some of its trash which just makes the problem worse… and global.
Reducing the Waste Some cities are striving to reduce the amount of waste generated. It may seem obvious, but the best way to reduce waste going to landfills is simply to not generate the waste in the first place. In short, it is easier to prevent waste than to look for eco-friendly ways to deal with it. But some cities are starting specific initiatives for dealing with their waste; let’s look at a few actions.
City Wide Recycling City recycling programs have sprung up around the country. In areas as diverse as Detroit, Michigan and Tampa, Florida, residents can put their old newspaper, milk jugs, egg cartons, cereal boxes and more at the curb to be recycled. This can keep thousands of pounds out of landfills every year.
Stopping Junk Mail One way that a non-profit in Chicago is trying to minimize waste to landfills is by reducing the junk mail that residents receive. The TinyGreenBubble.com learned that Chicago, who has more than a million households each receiving pounds of unsolicited junk mail every month, could save as much as $10 per household (a total of $10 million dollars city wide) in waste disposal costs if this junk mail were eliminated. Of course this would result in a massive savings in landfill space.
Pay as You Throw Many cities are discouraging waste by charging residents for trash removal by the container. This means that instead of paying a set rate for trash removal, these cities are charging per container, in an effort to encourage consumers to think about how they can create less trash.
Composting in the City Minnesota has a pilot program they are running in a few neighborhoods to take recycling a step further. They are asking residents to divide their trash into three types: recyclable (water bottles, milk jugs, etc.), non-recyclable but compostable (vegetable waste, pizza boxes and more), and true trash (garbage which is neither recyclable or compostable). The waste removal company is then picking up these items, and recycling and composting them. While there are still some economic issues in that the program is costly, it is a huge step in the right direction.
Each Individual can Take Action City wide initiatives are great for making a huge impact. But each individual can make a difference, and perhaps spawn a grass roots effort within their own city to reduce landfill waste. Following are a few ways that everyone can reduce waste in their own life:
Buy used. Shop at garage sales and consignment shops. This way you give an old product a new life. This can keep one old item out of a landfill, and prevent you from buying a new item that will simply go to a landfill eventually. At the least landfill waste would be cut in half.
Pass on your items. Sell your old items at a yard sale, donate it to charity, or even do a “curb alert” on CraigsList where you put your item in a box at the curb, then list it as “free” on the website; most items will be gone within an hour to someone who has a need for them.
Look at the packaging. Do not buy items that are over-packaged, which you know will result in waste.
Tell manufacturers how you feel. Write to manufacturers who use excess packaging or non-recyclable packaging and tell them how you feel.