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Humans Vs. Environment, the Losing Side

We've all heard the saying, "If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem" At one point or another in our lives, some of us more than others. But just what does that mean in a county the size of McKenzie? Well in 2002, a study showed that the average day for garbage in Watford City was six to eight tons a day. If you multiply that by one year which is 52 weeks, you would have 3 hundred and twelve thousand pounds of garbage. Nearly ten years later, the number is up by fifty times that much, because of the Oil Boom and the creation of jobs, more trash is used per year than in 2002. Accommodating the fact that Watford City does not recycle, but buries its trash, that is a lot of marring on the environment. But what about in a four person family? I set out to find how much garbage my family throws out in one week and just how much impact we have on the environment.

The Research:
I started my garbage research on Wednesday September the 19th, with two white Walmart bags filled to the handles with garbage and swill from the sink. One bag alone weighed one pound and two bags including the swill, weighed two pounds. The same was consistent on Thursday and Friday with the same amount of garbage but without the swill which consisted of noodles and spinach and whatever else from the days meals. Three days into the research I found a pattern starting to form. According to my results, which I had been recording on a sticky note posted on the refrigerator, the plastic and can usage was the same amount though the garbage had already been taken out the previous night. Take Wednesday and Thursday for example, on Wednesday and Thursday I found the same amount of plastic and cans being used. In all, for those two days, three cans of vegetables and three bottles which were two regular Coke bottles (20 Fl Oz or 591 ML) and one jug of water (3.78 Liters) was thrown away. On Friday however, the cans were four in number and the plastic used was only one making the whole trash bag weigh one pound. Saturday, the day I clean out the trash cans around our two bedroom apartment, four rooms each having a small trash can, surprisingly had a lot of paper (four garbage Walmart bags to be exact weighing four pounds). On Sunday six bottles of Coke made their way to the Walmart bag and paper that had accumulated in twenty four hours. By now it mystified me just how many bottles of coke my family, (mainly my dad) drank. The bags now weighed three pounds with the combined paper and the coke bottles. By Monday, the one day we're my whole family is gone, except for my mom, the trash was much less. Coming in at half a pound, it's surprising just how much trash one person uses; when the three other members of the family aren't home. Surprisingly it was what was in the trash when only one person was home. Four empty cans of beets, two bottles of water and an empty can of Lysol. Tuesday's trash was the heaviest so far coming in at five pounds and six trash bags combined with the swill in the sink, rotten fruit in the refrigerator, six coke bottles, and three boxes of rice dinners no one was in the mood to eat. On Wednesday, the last day of the research, two Walmart bags were used weighing three pounds. In one bag I found a bunch of sticky notes that could have been trashed a long time ago, two broken rules, a few badly graded assignments, a can of outdated tomatoes, and four coke bottles each having various amounts of liquid that my dad claimed as flat.
By the end of the project and on a trip to the dump, I was curious about what exactly Watford City does with its trash. After watching the loader rove over a pile of items we deemed useless, I asked the manager what Watford does with plastic. His answer was simple: We bury it because it's cheaper than sending it to another recycling facility that's all the way in Williston. I then asked him why doesn't McKenzie county build it's own Recycling facility? He said Watford City used to have a recycling plant but no one really used it and the people who owned it went bankrupt. The manager also added, that the county was working on it but it would be at least another two years before the county could build it. So in the meantime, the plastic just sits there underneath the earth while I'm unaware how much it's actually polluting.
Have you ever wondered why the aquifers are polluted? Well I did. As the state pumps the aquifer for our fresh drinking water, the water level goes down leaving a gap where dirt and water were once pushed up against each other creating pressure, the sand gives way creating a sinkhole which then dumps everything sitting on top of it into the aquifer. Thus, polluting our drinking water and harming the environment.
So just how much does my family use in one week? The answer may just maybe an eye opener. In one week, my family of four people used, 24 pounds of garbage. How much is that add up in a year exactly? 312 pounds per person per year would add to one thousand two hundred and forty eight pounds every year. If you think that's not even a lot then you'd be sadly mistaken.

My reaction:
Okay, so maybe I expected our garbage usage to be a little bit smaller than twenty four pounds. To watch the completely honest scale needle tell me exactly how much each day's garbage weighed was shocking. Before this project I honestly didn't care about how much my garbage weighed or what was in it to make it so important. I just went along thinking that it was garbage. After all what could a bunch of empty plastic bottles, crumpled up paper, and cans tell me exactly? That the garbage was starting to smell or that someone had to take it out before it over flowed? Well I didn't realize it at first, but remember that pattern I was starting to find? It told a sad and not so long history, while the environment pleaded silently for our help, since man found ways to be lazy. That saying, "Your looking at the problem," turns out to be true. I never thought about it before if I'm being completely honest, but we create our own problems while the trash just becomes a leaning tower of junk. Just look at the environment it tells the story through all we've destroyed when we don't recycle. It's really unsettling to see the wildlife suffer because we destroy the land with garbage because we're to lazy to recycle. You don't really see the problems that landfills have until you see just how much we throw away. For instance, just those two Walmart filled bags could kill almost a whole ecosystem alone. I know it doesn't seem like it but if you think about it, if just one animal dies from mistaking the garbage bag for food, it could kill off a whole new population before it even started. It really made me think about just how much impact, I as one person, had on the environment.
Moreover, it was really disconcerting to see the percentage of how much paper, metal and plastic that we used in one week. The paper total was 33 percent. Which isn't to bad, but it still contributes to the harm on the environment by how many trees we cut down for just one roll of toilet paper, or just one sheet of paper. On the other hand, Paper is biodegradable meaning, that you can make it into something else such as another piece of paper or a new newspaper, but what about plastic? Take all those plastic bottles which equaled 35 percent of my families total weekly garbage use, once I put them in the dumpster I could actually care less where they ended up. That is until I found out that Watford doesn't recycle. Plastic is not biodegradable so where does it end up? Sadly, it stays in the junkyard but you can't see it because it's sepulchered under the earth with all the other non-biodegradable-environment-harming plastic bottles no one gives a second thought too. I used to think that putting a plastic bottle out of sight made it go away. That method of thinking doesn't exactly work in reality. To prove my point, let's say today you bury a coke bottle, a plastic pen, and a plastic container, and in twenty to thirty years you come back and dig up the bottle, pen and container, which one will have deteriorated faster? The answer is neither of them will have had much damage on them because plastic will never go away . I found that you could melt plastic into a puddle, but then you would have just a bunch of liquidized plastic that released chemicals as you burned it. You could also burn it I suppose, but that just puts it back in the atmosphere causing more harm to the environment and the Ozone layer. You could just leave it wherever and let what ever happens to it happen, but it's not just as simple as that because you could end up hurting the ecosystem. So no matter what you do to it, the plastic you never gave a second thought too, will be in your great-great-grandchildren's lives! Hair-raising right?
What unsettled me next was the aluminium cans that ended up in the trash. 32 percent of our garbage was made out of the seemingly innocent cans. The cans however, don't have much of an effect but none the less are part of the problem. The plastic, was a hefty part of the eye opener but cans made up more than just this report. I remember being little and stacking the cans and hitting them with a basketball. But I never honestly knew what an effect just one can had on the environment. It's true most of the seats in classrooms are made out of recycled cans, but what about all the other one thousands tons that don't make the cut? An aluminum can can last roughly two hundred years in a landfill. This doesn't seem so bad right? Well think again. In order for one can to be made miners dig for Bauxite Ore which causes deforestation, erosion, polluted water sources, and a threat to water sources. The effects on Electricity just for a can of beets, momentous though the plants are hydro-electric powered, the man made reservoirs destroy large areas or forest and disturb river and lake ecosystems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), aluminum cans are the largest source of aluminum in the waste stream. In 2008, the United States generated nearly two million tons of aluminum packaging which is 2.7 million tons into today's already suffering environment. There is some good news to all that waste. Aluminium cans are one hundred percent recyclable. Recycling cans can be made into new cans, tremendously reducing the need for mining and refining as well as cutting down on the waste that finds itself in landfills. But to every good side there's a downside. Most of us if we're being honest, think it takes to much time to sort trash, another five percent of us think it's disgusting to even sort through your garbage. So maybe that saying that your looking at the problem is completely and infallibly true.

With this project I learned a lot of things that we do everyday. Each and everyone of us are a part of the problem. We use cans like storms use clouds. We destroy places by trash. We don't think about the impact just one plastic bottle has on the environment when we bury it. I never knew how much of a problem I was causing every time I threw out a plastic bottle or aluminium can. Before this report, cans were just cans, not monsters lurking unaware in my household, crumpled paper was just paper that was just to much trouble, and plastic bottles weren't Godzilla flattening the environment.

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