Sorry, This Seat is Reserved For My Trash

by Chelsea Beytas on February 19, 2014

America’s people continue to grow horizontally, as its land continues to grow vertically

America is constantly hungry…and it shows on her theoretical hips and thighs. The etiology of America’s norm of overconsumption can be understood simply through the historical context of America’s culture of individualism. This culture encompasses both the ideas of “each man for himself” and “Keeping up with the Joneses.” We buy, consume, discard, and then buy more.  For housing less than 5% of the world population, the US produces the greatest amount of trash per person, at ratio of 4.4 pounds per individual. As a nation we accumulate 6886 tons a day- around 40% of the world’s waste.1

A fact not known to many, I wrote my college essay on the need for Americans to recycle. I then wrote my transfer application on creating a nature path in a nature reserve, to create an outdoor learning space. Despite choosing a career path in the (human) healthcare field, I have always had a strong connection to the environment.  Living and promoting a green(er) way of living was instilled in my upbringing, and fostered into a personal conviction as I grew older. Though I am not an expert in environmental sciences and history by any means, I do try to pay attention to environmental issues in the news. One of the key environmental topics that worries me the most is landfills -not so much the safety aspect of them, but the fact that they exist, and that both their number and size are perpetually rising.

I think less atrociously about landfills than I did before I researched a little bit about them. Various methods have been established to make landfills safer for the environment. Landfills have replaced open dumping fields. Safer practices include laying a mandatory base protective layer of clay and plastic on the bottom of designated landfill area, creating a collecting duct to capture the most harmful runoff that trickles down from the above layers, and constantly compacting the waste and laying soil above the newest formed pile.2 Furthermore, the gases that are produced while the material decays are monitored and collected, and are safely disposed of, or harvested as energy.2  

Though these methods make the collected waste less harmful to the environment and the people, it does nothing to reduce the sheer quantity of waste that America produces. Despite having the current capacity to continue to utilize landfills at the rate we are throwing out trash, down the road, we will not.  On average, America generates enough trash to fill 2 baseball stadiums a day- equating to 200 million tons a year.3  I presume it is without disagreement that land allocations will need to increase over time; it is the only feasible means in accommodating for the perpetually accumulating trash. Wyoming predicts that it will take 100 years to max out its current landfills, in Arkansas, over 600 years, but New York, only 25years.4,5  This method is simply unsustainable.  The US population will continue to rise, while our waste will remain constant, and byproduct (packaging) waste, as a result from shopping on the internet, will only continue to increase, as online shopping continue to gain popularity, and in some instances, preference.

The EPA has recorded that at 2011, 68.7 of the total municipal solid waste was recyclable (composted of paper products, glass, metals, plastics, rubber, leather, textile, and wood).6 Another 28% was compostable (yard trimmings and food waste).4 Only 3.3% of the trash was categorized as other.6 96.7% of all items have the potential to be recycled or made in compost. Unless the US increases their estimated total recycling percentage to at least 40%, from the current estimate of 35%6 the future does not look promising.4

Yes, the US can build more landfills once the current ones reach maximum capacity, but these designated waste areas will only continue to grow in size and quantity over time, creating mini-cities composed entirely of trash. As with any country, the U.S. has a finite amount of land. There seems to be little public or environmental concern regarding land allocation for trash. With a country not even two and a half centuries old, it is difficult to conceptualize planning a thousand or more years in advance. But unless the world starts outsourcing its trash to another planet, such considerations should be made, especially since the population is expected to increase by another three billion people by 2050.4 Our current waste “management” system is by no means sustainable for more than a couple of centuries. Instead of being that inconsiderate generation that leaves all its ecological problems to the distant future generation, let’s worry now to prevent what could an irreversible peril.

 

 

 

Endnotes/ Work Cited

 

1 “Recycling at USI.” Solid Waste & Landfill Facts. University of Southern Indiana, Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <http://www.usi.edu/recycle/solid-waste-landfill-facts>

2 “Landfills and Combustion.” The Quest for Less. Washington D.C.: United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2005. 166-67. Print.

3 “10 FAST FACTS ON RECYCLING.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/reg3wcmd/solidwasterecyclingfacts.htm>.

4 Nadakavukaren, Anne. Our Global Environment: A Health Perspective. 7th ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2011. Print.

5 Palmer, Brian. “Landfills: Are We Running out of Room for Our Garbage?” Slate Magazine. N.p., Feb. 2011. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_green_lantern/2011- /02/go_west_garbage_can.html>

6 “Municipal Solid Waste.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 05 Feb. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/waste/nonhaz/municipal/msw99.htm>.

 

 

 

 

 


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

gabe March 26, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Chelsea is awesome thus she deserves lots of extra credit plus this article is so necessary for its advocacy alone of a sustainable and a brighter future

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Maggie March 27, 2014 at 12:25 am

I second the comment above- Chelsea is awesome and deserves lots of extra credit! This is the kind of article I think should be posted above trashcans so that people consider what they are throwing away and the impact it has on the environment (and if the items doomed to the trashcan are possibly recyclable,compostable or even just reusable)

Reply

Drew March 27, 2014 at 11:54 am

Much well-written.
Very words.
So article.
WOW.

Reply

Matthew C. Kriner April 22, 2014 at 1:06 pm

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