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More Waste, No Space This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


The increasing amount of waste being produced around the world is a serious problem and a major threat to the environment. Animals are losing their homes to make room for landfills, and disease-ridden vermin like rats are moving in. Trash incinerators emit carbon dioxide, adding to the already critical buildup of greenhouse gases and exacerbating global warming. We’re polluting water sources and wild environments with our careless litter, making once natural habitats hostile for our precious wildlife. This is only part of the problem. Basically, it comes down to this: we’re producing more garbage than the Earth can handle, and we’re running out of places to put it.

Garbage and man-made waste isn’t new. Our nomadic ancestors produced waste like bones, animal skins, and other organic materials. However, what waste they created was biodegradable, so it broke down and returned to the earth with no harm done.

Landfills aren’t a new concept, either. The first municipal landfill was in ancient Greece. Still, little harm was done to the environment. The real waste problems began during the Industrial Revolution. New technologies allowed us to manufacture more artificial and non-biodegradable goods, and in much larger quantities. This changed the type and amount of waste we produced, and not for the better. Since then, the problem has only increased as we develop new technologies and mass-produce and mass-­consume goods.

New products and technologies contain more man-made components, like synthetic fabrics, other plastics, and metals. These can take thousands of years to break down, unlike the organic waste of our ancestors, which took months or at most a couple years. To add to this, we’re producing these slow-decomposing materials at a much faster rate than the environment can handle. Large quantities of these materials just lengthen the decomposing process.

Another issue is electronic waste (or e-waste), which includes computers, TVs, cell phones – all items that can be hazardous to the environment if not properly disposed of. Despite restrictions on e-waste in landfills, some still finds its way to the city dump, which can add toxic chemicals to the earth and groundwater.

Our waste production is out of control. The average American produces up to 4.6 pounds of garbage per day. Sixty-five percent of our municipal waste is collected from households, and the other 35 percent comes from schools, hospitals, businesses, and other public facilities. About 80 percent of the garbage we dispose of can be recycled – but isn’t. We are overproducing, and our environment can’t handle it.

In the U.S. alone, we produced 243 million tons of trash in 2009. Americans generate 30 billion foam cups, 220 million tires, and 1.8 billion disposable diapers each year. Regardless of the fact that we make up less than 5 percent of the world population, we managed to produce a quarter of the world’s waste in 2005 – the greatest contributor to this epidemic. We’re not alone, though. The United Kingdom produces 300 million tons of garbage per year. Naples, Italy, was forced to relocate its trash to Hamburg, Germany, because it was running out of space.

If we continue with our careless lifestyle, we’re doomed to pay the price. When rainwater falls on landfills, it collects chemicals and other hazardous materials that will end up polluting lakes, streams, and groundwater sources. Carbon dioxide produced when transporting the trash, whether to the city dump or across the globe, is released into the ­atmosphere and increases global warming. Shipping trash to other countries not only worsens the atmosphere, it increases the risk of dangerous spills and accidents that could be hazardous to the ocean and its inhabitants. Landfills and old incinerators can ­release cancer-causing dioxins that harm those working or living near these areas.

Landfills also provide a home to disease-ridden vermin like rats. Decomposing materials release gases like methane, and plastics burned in incinerators give off toxins. These greenhouse gases only increase the thick layer of heat blanketing the earth.

There have been some efforts to address the trash crisis. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulates household, industrial, and manufactured solid and hazardous wastes. On Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) pickup days, household items like cleaners and old batteries are collected so they can be properly disposed of. Some countries in the European Union, for example, the Netherlands, have adopted the idea of “pay as you throw,” which has increased recycling by 45 percent. These programs charge residents for waste collection based on how much they throw away. Programs like this have been adopted in 26 percent of U.S. communities as well. If you’re going to pollute more, you should pay more.

We don’t have to live like this forever, though. There are a variety of ways we can reduce the amount of waste we create. We can cut the garbage that ends up in landfills by recycling more, reusing what can be reused, and properly disposing of hazardous waste and e-waste. Instead of trashing food scraps, start a composting pile in your yard or at school, and use the nutrient-rich soil to plant a garden. Use eco-friendly products, like reusable water bottles, rechargeable batteries, and reusable shopping bags. Instead of throwing away or recycling an old glass jar, clean it and use it to store something. These little acts can add up to a big difference.

Waste pollution is a huge problem in our world, and if we don’t act soon, there may not be a tomorrow. Do what you can, encourage those around you, and together we’ll work toward a cleaner world.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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carpra said...
Sept. 16, 2013 at 12:14 am:
Nice! I  like  the  way  you  write
 
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