The short answer is yes, we are in a trash crisis. The world is drowning in its waste production. It’s a phenomenon that many in the world are either highly aware of or choose to turn a blind eye to. And little has been done to fight this ever-growing problem. The British Broadcasting Corporation reports that every year, the world produces 2 billion tons of municipal solid waste, which is enough to fill more than 800,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, and the numbers don’t stop there. The World Bank warns that, if serious action isn’t taken at the current rate, global waste will increase by up to 70 percent by 2050.
In this crisis, which is also referred to as the global waste crisis, America plays a significant role. How do we do our part to ensure less waste ends up at the landfill, impairing our environment? The answer requires an examination of our habits.
What’s Our Waste Problem?
The U.S., along with China, Brazil, Japan, and Germany, is on the shortlist of serial waste generators — countries that produce the highest amounts of solid waste. And we’re the top contributors, producing 3 times the global average in trash containing plastic, waste, and food. Yet, we recycle the least, only reusing approximately 35 percent of the solid waste we produce.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that in 2017, our nation produced 267.8 million tons of municipal solid waste, or 4.51 pounds a day per person. Of that waste, only 67.2 million tons of it got recycled, 27 million tons composted, and 139.6 million tons ended up in a landfill. It’s believed that because we don’t see the landfills piling up with waste, we don’t think that there’s an issue. This speaks to why so little movement gets made toward plans to tackle our landfills, where the waste mountains grow taller every day.
Our crisis with trash lies not just in how much waste we produce, but also how we go about disposing of our waste. Previously, the U.S., like other countries, relied on China for the disposal of its municipal waste. But after China banned importing waste in 2018, it left countries looking for alternatives for managing their waste. In some cases, this leads to openly burning the waste, which has harsh, adverse effects on our environment.
But within the tons of trash we dump into landfills, we also lose countless resources. When introduced to processes like anaerobic digestion, these materials result in a co-product used for cooking, generate energy, power engines, or used in nutrient-rich fertilizer, compost, and animal bedding.
Recent events are contributing to the trash crisis as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an uptick in needs for single-use products and extra packaging to prevent further spread of the highly infectious virus. And because of stay at home orders, people produce more residential waste from to-go containers and packaging from online purchases. States like Virginia, Idaho, and Michigan have halted the intake of materials at landfills and donation sites to avoid the virus and give workers the chance to work through the steady rising heaps of waste. These developments add to the world’s already staggering waste production number and are sure to affect the environment in a way we haven’t yet begun to experience.
The consequences of our waste come full circle and affect our overall health. The trash we improperly dispose of has a way of finding its way back into our bodies. As garbage decomposes, it releases toxins and harmful chemicals, impairing public health, and threatening the environment. These pollutants seep into the ground, affecting the plants, the fauna who eat them, and our groundwater. Those same toxins — often methane and carbon dioxide — are expelled into the air as toxic greenhouse gases when the waste is burned at landfills. It ends up in our drinking water and in the ocean water, killing and infecting the wildlife. Exposure to the toxins can lead to respiratory issues related to breathing in methane gases. Other complications include diarrhea, increased allergies, and cancer.
Environmental and health threats aren’t the only consequences of improper waste management. It has social and financial implications as well. Public waste systems struggle with being able to keep up with the staggering number of pounds of trash amassed daily. Historically, America spends more on trash collection than its disposal of it. Cities allocate between 20 and 50 percent of their budgets to dealing with waste and its management. Because of the steady increase in garbage, cities will likely have to allocate more money to manage the waste, taking those funds away from other departments and projects in need.
What’s the Solution to the Trash Crisis?
There are no quick fixes to the trash crisis. Reducing our waste output is a long process, but we can take small yet powerful steps to increase our recycling percentage and reduce the amount of waste that makes it was to the landfill annually. Measures include no longer purchasing or using plastic water bottles, reducing food waste, repurposing items, and donating items instead of throwing them away.
Some experts say that making people pay for the solid waste they dispose of can reduce the amount of careless waste disposal. Similar to water and electric bills, residents pay for what they use. Such a program can encourage mindfulness about what we throw away and increase recycling habits in households.
Another solution to the trash crisis is with the services of Synergy BurCell Technologies. We are dedicated to clean energy and a better world, and have a found a cost-efficient, environmentally friendly way of ensuring less trash goes to waste. Our state of the art BurCell System, a Synergy BurCell-designed material recovery facility, provides clean, energy-rich feedstocks that can be used in anaerobic digestion to produce reliable renewable energy. Our projects recover and reuse as much as 75 percent of the materials we process and prove to be a much-needed solution in the global trash crisis.
For more information about the BurCell system and how it works, contact our team today!