Everyone can picture what a mountain of trash looks like. Most of us, have seen trash piles at various points in our lives. This could be something as incongruous as an overfilled trash can in a city park or the exuberant confetti shower that collects on the street after a parade. We assume that this will be cleaned up by some unnamed and unseen person, but we rarely experience what happens to our trash after it enters a bin.
The journey our trash takes can be quite the adventure. In the not too distant past it would have been burned in ones backyard, now it mostly ends up in landfills. These are places where trash is collected and through a series of steps is kept out of the environment. Encased in plastic and dirt, landfills are a much larger version of the trash bags that we already use. Most of this waste never really goes away, it’s out of sight and out of mind.
This is a problem because the average American produces upwards of 4 pounds of trash every day, meaning that every year a family produces an elephant (3.5 tons) of trash or, if stacked, would be the height of a small skyscraper (760 feet). That amount of trash adds up quickly. We need to do as much as we can to produce less waste, and be better at recycling and composting so that less garbage ends up in landfills or the oceans.
- The reason you need to clean recyclables is that dirty items get trashed, on average 25% of what is put in the blue bin is too dirty to actually be recycled. We can do a better job to make sure good our intentions aren’t for nothing.
- The symbols on plastic tell you what its made of. Items of a lower number, like water bottles can be turned into a nearly endless number of plastic items (from shirts to shoes). However, it’s not infinite, a water bottle can be recycled up to ten times before it gets downgraded into another item.
- Metal and glass containers, like bottles and cans, can be endlessly recycled. These materials don’t lose their quality through the recycling process. This partly explains why aluminum cans are the items we most often recycle.
- Plastic bags are the most commonly found trash ocean trash, killing numerous marine animals across the globe. If bags are cleaned, collected, and returned to a proper recycling center, they can be recycled into bags or other composite materials.
Written by Jeremy Brown