Humans produce an obscene amount of garbage – the average American generates around two thousand pounds of waste each year. That’s a lot of garbage to get rid of, so where does it all end up?
This interesting blog post on where trash goes covers the topic in more detail, but for a quick overview, read on.
Different states, cities, and areas have different schemes for the disposal of waste, so where your trash ends up will depend on where you live. Some places are better than recycling than others, which means less waste ends up in landfill sites – which is a good thing!
When waste is collected, it is taken to a sorting facility where useful materials such as metal, glass, and recyclable plastic are removed. Technology is used to make a first pass at sorting waste – for example, magnets can pick up some metals. Thereafter, waste is sorted by hand.
A large percentage of non-useful and non-recyclable waste is sent to landfill sites; there are around 3,000 in the US. More than half of the garbage you discard every day ends up in these sites. Eventually, much of the waste that ends up here will decompose, but this process doesn’t happen overnight and a lot of the material in landfill sites will still be there in one 100 years.
Plastic is a scourge on the planet. While plastic is incredibly useful in numerous applications and most of us couldn’t live without plastic wrap and plastic food storage containers, it’s undeniable that plastic is responsible for the worst pollution.
More than half of plastic ends up being sent to landfill sites, where it will lie for hundreds of years, possibly even forever. A significant quantity of plastic also ends up in the ocean, poisoning sea-life and adding to an existing floating island of garbage the size of France.
Food and organic waste are usually sent to a composting facility. This includes things like vegetable peelings, eggshells, and agricultural waste. The waste is turned into compost, which is then bagged and sold back to consumers.
Lots of materials we use every day can be recycled, including paper, glass, some metals such as aluminum, and some plastic. Recyclable waste is sorted at giant municipal sorting centers and sent to large recycling centers, where it is further sorted and sent to facilities to be remade into new products.
The good news is that recycling is increasing and we are getting better at reusing waste. Around 68 million tons of solid waste is recycled each year, most of it paper. Recycled paper is turned into cups, paper pads, packaging, and more.
You Can Do More!
We can all do more to prevent waste from ending up in landfill sites or the ocean. Each of us has a responsibility to try and minimize the waste we generate. Instead of purchasing plastic wrap, store food in glass containers or wrap it in deli wrap. You can even compost your own organic waste if you have a garden!