A little over a month ago I briefly touched on the amount of waste sent to our landfills when discussing “Choosing Reusables.” The numbers are so staggering though, I think it warrants another look.
The EPA collects data on how much trash (or as they refer to it, municipal solid waste) is generated each year and where it goes. Some is recycled, some is composted, some is turned into energy, and the rest is dumped in landfills. To get an idea of where we are today, in 1960 we (i.e. the United States) generated about 88.1 million tons of trash that year; in 2018 alone, we generated about 292.4 million tons. That is roughly 4.9 pounds of trash per person per day.
That is a lot of trash that needs to go somewhere and quite a bit of it goes into landfills. In 2018, over 146 million tons of trash went into landfills. That is about 50% of the trash that was generated.
We have to wonder how it got to this point and how we can stop this before it goes even further. What can we do about it and what happens if we don’t do anything? The amount of waste we are producing is unsustainable. Period. That’s why we want to discuss Reducing the Amount of Waste We Send to the Landfill for this final week of our 21 Actions for 2021.
Land of Plenty. Land of Waste.
The U.S. is a land of plenty – anything we could ever want is right at our fingertips (literally…) But having access to so much stuff makes it exceptionally easy for us to consume more than we need to. This just increases the amount of waste we throw away.
But how much waste is out there? Below is a infographic I found on Save On Energy. As you can see, Virginia has about 22.4 tons of trash per person in our landfills. What!? Do you mean to tell me that there is 112 TONS of trash for my family of 5 sitting in landfills!?
Visualize Your Garbage
That same article also helps in visualizing exactly how much trash we actually produce.
Your 4.4 pounds of daily trash is approximately the weight of a modest-sized pumpkin that you would carve on Halloween. Add up all those “pumpkins” over the seasons and they come in at 1,606 pounds – or the size of your average cow. But if you pack that trash into cubed feet, you’re looking at the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The waste tally for a family of four is even grimmer. That yearly haul weighs as much as an Asian elephant and stacks up to the height of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Think that’s bad? The annual weight of trash for the entire country equals 254 million tons, or 1.2 million blue whales, and would reach the moon and back 25 times, a journey of 11,534,090 miles.“Land of Waste: American Landfills and Waste Production,” Save on Energy
How Are We Going To Respond?
Yes, there is a lot of trash in our landfills. And yes, we’re not going to be able to instantly stop throwing stuff away. But there are things we can do. Recycling is a great example of this, however, even though recycling has increased over the years, so has the amount of trash produced. We can’t look at recycling as our ticket out of this mess. We need to recognize that it is just a piece of the puzzle. There are other pieces out there we need to put together to really make a difference, such as cutting back on our consumption, shifting to a circular economy, and reusing items.
Many small acts can make a big difference! I encourage you to take a look at how much waste you are producing. Really think about where that waste is going and how it is impacting our environment. Throughout the week we are going to share ways we can reduce the amount of waste we send to the landfill. Put some into practice and see if you are able to decrease the amount of stuff you throw away. We encourage you to follow us on Facebook to keep up with the discussion.
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