By Jessica Garrity
I’ve recently realized via living without my parents that taking out the trash is kind of annoying. It’s one of those tedious weekly tasks that must be performed, unless I want to end up on one of those hoarder shows. But lugging that big plastic bag to my car, then driving all the way to the dump takes up time and energy and sometimes I really just wish I didn’t have to. Maybe I’m just lazy, but lately I’ve been really taking a look at how much trash I produce, and how to make that big garbage bag a lot lighter.
On average, Americans produce about 5 lbs of garbage per day. That means that each year, you could be producing up to 1,800 lbs of trash. That’s about as much as a smart car weighs. When I hear these numbers, I can’t even think of what I’m throwing out that would amount to 5 lbs a day. Well, when you think about it, each of us isn’t even disposing of all the trash we produce. A lot of garbage that we generate is being disposed of by someone else at restaurants, schools, our workplace, and in public trash receptacles. We don’t even get to see how much all of that trash amounts to.
So what is all that garbage made up of? And where does it even go?
Well, the majority of our garbage is made up of organic materials like food waste, paper and yard trimmings, and about 24 percent is made up of metals, glass and plastics. The remaining 12 percent of America’s garbage is labeled as “other” which includes inorganic materials, rubber, textiles and wood. Most of this trash is ending up in landfills, while about a third is recycled and about 14 percent ends up being incinerated.
While I was pleasantly surprised that about a third of our trash is being recycled (cynical me thought it would be less) it still strikes me that more than half of it is ending up in landfills. I’m sure you’ve seen one, that hulking mass that’s trying to be disguised as a hill but is far too uniform and has no real plants growing on it. We try to hide them and make them look like part of the landscape but the reality is we are wasting land and resources building giant tombs for our trash. Landfills are designed to be sealed from water and air which means it doesn’t allow for decomposition and all this trash literally ends up just sitting in the ground.
Other than having to lug that big bag to the dump every week, why should I care about reducing the amount of garbage I produce?
I think the worst part about the way we think about and handle our trash is that we never really think about where ‘away’ is when we’re throwing things out. I mean, imagine if you had to bury your trash in the ground yourself. If each person is producing 1,800 lbs of trash a year, that’s 1,800 lbs of stuff you would have to dig a hole for, line the hole so none of the waste leaks into your groundwater, you would probably want to compact the trash somehow so that it’s taking up less space but even then that’s a lot of work to end up using valuable yard space as a grave for all the stuff you wasted. The whole process just seems wasteful to me, and with the population ever expanding, it also seems wasteful to have huge plots of land set out to bury stuff in the ground.
Alright! Alright! you got me. Trash is bad, so how do I reduce my waste output?
A lot of ways you can reduce your garbage output are pretty simple. First, stop using things that are single-use. What’s the point in using valuable time, energy and resources into making something you’re only going to use once? For example, re-usable bags instead of plastic ones and get a water bottle that you can bring with you everywhere and refill at your leisure. Also, beware of items that are individually packaged, like snacks. Buy in bulk and use Tupperware or another type of re-usable container. Not only does this save you money because you’re buying in bulk, but it also reduces trash. In addition, you can compost any food waste or yard trimmings and this compost also makes a great fertilizer for your garden. Lastly, if something is broken or torn, try to fix it. We throw out things all the time if the zipper is broken, or if fabric is torn but these are things that are easily repaired and it will also save you money because you don’t have to buy a new item.
So to conclude, reduce waste because not only is it taking up space and using up valuable resources, but because it can save you money and if you’re lazy like me you won’t have to carry a big heavy bag (or two) to the dump every week.