Our Waste Problem

How our actions can have tragic consequences

Photo by: WATERFRAME, ALAMY / National Geographic

With more than 8 billion people on this Earth, each and every one of us produces waste. The problem is we are producing waste that is not degradable leaving us with garbage that will not go away. This is affecting our ecosystem, wildlife, economy, and even ourselves. Sea life is disturbed with the vast amounts of garbage that is in our ocean. Our cities are littered with trash because people are too lazy to properly dispose their waste. We need to come up with solutions on how to deal with the overload of waste that we produce.

The damage that has been done

According to Peter Lehner, “We generate more waste than any other country in the world, recycle far less than other developed nations, and waste half of our food, which costs us $164 billion annually”. (Lehner p.1) That is a lot of money that could be spent a better way. Composting waste is a great solution as it is all natural and has many benefits. If you decide to compost your waste, Lehner states, “your effort will pay off by reducing up to 75% of the solid waste stream to landfills, reducing methane production, which is a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2.”(Lehner p.9) In the future, hopefully community composting will be a popular way to remove our waste in every community across the country.

Our ocean is being filled with waste. The most popular material that is found littered in the ocean is plastic. In the article, “Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean.” Jenna R. Jambeck states, that “275 metric tons of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries back in 2010. With estimates of 4.8 to 12.7 metric tons of plastic entering the ocean.” (Jambeck p.2) If we continue with what we are doing and make no improvements according to Jambeck, “Plastic entering the ocean will increase by an order of magnitude by 2025.” A Dutch inventor Boyan slat, founded the Ocean Cleanup Project. The project crew claims they can make the ocean plastic free by the year of 2050. According to the Ocean Cleanup crew, “By utilizing the ocean currents to our advantage, our passive drifting systems are estimated to clean up half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years’ time.”

Figure 4. Total MSW Generation (by Material), 2013
254 Million Tons (before recycling) / U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The packaging on our products and food play a vital role in our waste production. Packaging is designed to attract customers and preserve products. Luttenberger states, “Plastics packaging adrift in the world’s oceans will become the catalyst driving brands to rethink packaging in a context consumers can understand and act upon,” (Plastic engineering p.3) Trends are appearing to where packaging is eco-friendly making it attractive to customers who want to make a change. Not only should companies embrace change in their packaging but also make their packaging recyclable materials only. Companies are even going as far as using recycled plastic from the ocean in their packaging. According to Plastics make it possible, “A cosmetics company has partnered up with Ocean Legacy, an organization that collects plastic litter from the Pacific Ocean, to make bottles and pots for its products. The company even rewards its customers for recycling — when they return five clean and empty pots to a store, they get a free face mask.” (Plastics make it possible, p.2)

In the past

Over the years we have made incredible progress being more eco-friendly. People back in 1959 would dump waste out of their window instead of throwing it away. During the 1800s people discovered that raw sewage should not be exposed to anything, as it carries diseases. According to the author, The Technology Engineering Teacher, “By the late 1800s city officials created garbage collection and disposal systems using horse-drawn carts to gather garbage and dispose of it in open dumps, incinerators, or at sea.” The average human produces up to 4.4 pounds of waste per day and is estimated that we produce 129,283 pounds of waste in a single lifetime. The Technology and engineering teacher also claims, “in the 1920s a common method for filling swamps near cities was to use garbage, incinerator ash, and dirt. However, this practice allowed the groundwater to be contaminated by the waste.”

This video is an example on how a modern landfill works. Published on Jan 6, 2011 by Evospect

In the year 1990, we produced a total of 195 million tons of waste. As of 2014, the waste produced skyrocketed to 258 million tons. New landfills are being built due to the unsafe conditions of old landfills. (Environmental encyclopedia p.1) Old landfills according to the environmental encyclopedia, “Once were open dumps, causing unsanitary conditions, methane explosions, and releases of hazardous chemicals into groundwater and air.” In 1970, the “Clean Air Act” limited the landfill burnings and littering of the community. This act played a huge role in cleaning up the country. If we would have continued the dumping of waste out of our window etc. the Earth’s health and our health would both have declined.

In conclusion, the environment still needs to be worked on but we are on a good path in restoring the damage that we have already done. Our waste problem is still an issue that needs work. We need to make more products out of recycled material and not throw away as much as we are. Instead of plastic being our main material we should start using more eco friendly materials as it would be less harsh on the environment. One step forward I have seen locally is paper straws being used over plastic. If we keep replacing everyday items with eco-friendly material, saving the earth will be a breeze.

Garbage Mountain transformed into park. Posted on August 5, 2014 by Karin Kloosterman

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store