Anatomy of a Landfill
I am appalled to realize that the Little Tykes Playhouse that I frivolously bought for my kids in 1988 might be permanently buried in a landfill somewhere – the yellow plastic Big Bird head lying beneath a slew of garbage. If a plastic bottle decomposes in 450 years, it will likely take thousands of years for the playhouse to break down. Oh, the guilt! Also, since most landfills are anaerobic and are packed very tightly, most of the stuff in the landfills doesn’t really biodegrade at all. It sits there. Buried forever. If the playhouse had been built from plywood instead, it would have broken down in only 1-3 years, or we could have recycled that wood and made something else out of it, avoiding the landfill altogether!
All About Landfills
Landfills consume many acres of land and are expensive to create. Today’s landfills are lined and sealed to protect the environment, avoiding groundwater, air and soil contamination. There are multiple layers to these complex holes in the ground, with many acres of surrounding land used for access roads, leachate ponds, methane gas venting, groundwater monitoring systems and stormwater drainage.
About 55% of waste generated in the U.S. and 90% of waste in the U.K. goes to landfills. Americans landfill an average of 132 million tons of garbage a year! Of this, a whopping 40% is organic material that could easily be composted and used for gardening, such as kitchen waste and paper. Another 12% is plastics, and 9% is metal. With robust recycling processes in place around the country, it seems that a little bit of effort could go a long way in reducing the bulk in the landfills.
There are several ways we can help reduce landfill waste, mainly by keeping recyclables and organics out of the waste stream. The recycling and reuse industry is growing quickly; it not only helps us conserve our natural resources, but stimulates economic growth as innovations spur reuse industries and provide jobs. For example, U.S. manufacturers produce 35 million mattresses each year. What happens when you buy a new mattress? The delivery truck pulls up to your door, installs the new mattress and takes your old one away. We rarely think beyond that about what happens to them. For many years, the old mattresses were thrown directly onto the enormous pile at the landfill; however, some diligent companies are now deconstructing them and recycling up to 90% of the cotton, metal, wood and foam materials. The metal is melted down to make new products, the cotton and foam are reused for insulation and carpet padding, and the wood is usually sold to wood chippers for fuel use.
Many cities and companies are working to reduce the amount of waste that goes into the landfill. Some of the innovations include:
- City projects like San Francisco’s Pay As You Throw program, which requires residents and businesses to sort items for Compost, Recycling or Landfill. They have sorting bins for the appropriate materials, which are then picked up as part of the city’s Zero Waste goals. In addition, the city requires construction sites to recycle a minimum of 65% of their waste, ensuring that it goes to appropriate collection sites. San Francisco has one of the highest collection rates in the country, 77%, and has a goal of 100% by 2020. Other leaders include Los Angeles (66%), Seattle (50%) and Chicago (45%).
- A unique pilot project in Madison, Wisconsin to collect organics from residences – everything from table scraps to cat litter, paper items and baby diapers! The refuse is composted at an extremely high temperature in order to kill any bacteria, then turned into rich, reusable soil. In only 3 weeks they collected over 18,000 pounds, or 14 pounds per household. This not only reduces waste in the landfills, but saves space in our trash cans, and reduces the number of plastic bags used to line garbage cans. Best of all, the composted materials can be used to re-enrich the soil, or as biofuel, helping cities recoup some of their project costs.
- Capturing methane gas from landfills that is then used for electricity, which keeps it from entering the Earth’s atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.
- Home composting - using just 10 watts of electricity, the Nature Mill indoor composter sits in your kitchen and receives your leftovers, turns itself and mixes in oxygen, and in two weeks delivers wholesome compost ready for your garden!
The bottom line is THINK before you toss. Check out options near you to see how you can help reduce the waste stream.
World Green Top News
- Testing a New Dynamic Solar Facade
- Joshua Tree Gets a New Desert Prefab
- Plugwise Eliminates Excess Energy Use
- Ahead of Schedule, An LED Bulb for us All
- Community Solar Programs Let Renters Share The Power
- Simple Green Harpoon House in Oregon
- Dad Was Right About Those Lights
- Gary Chang's Sliding Wall Apartment Is An Eco-Friendly 24 Rooms! (VIDEO)
- Who Wins in the Home Star Program? GridPoint, Big Box Retailers
- Seeking Existing Home Energy Efficiency
- Verizon Activates Oklahoma City Emergency Response 21 May 2013 | 12:30 pm
- One Planet Webinar: H&M on Sustainable Fashion 21 May 2013 | 11:00 am
- Allstate Assisting Oklahoma Homeowners After Severe Tornadoes 21 May 2013 | 10:30 am
- XL Group plc Announces Plans for Global Day of Giving on Thursday, May 23, 2013 21 May 2013 | 10:15 am
- Make your own Game with Social Value 21 May 2013 | 10:00 am