Introduction to the Waste Crisis
Do you ever wonder where that candy wrapper, treat bag or zip-loc bag ends up after you trash it? If not, you're not alone as most people don't. Products that are not compostable, biodegradable, (meaning don't break down naturally) or recyclable products, (meaning they can be reused), will most likely end up in landfills or in our oceans disrupting and damaging our ecosystems. With this blog, I would like to raise awareness to the reality of how we consume products and their contribution our current waste crisis.
We will create waste, it cannot be avoided, but together we can manage, reduce and prevent the expansion of landfills and garbage by being more mindful.
Lifting the Vail and Raising Awareness
Have you ever thought about how much waste a single person produces per day? According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, each American generated about 4.9 lbs of waste per day in 2018. It doesn't sound like a lot, but if we look at an entire year, it is about 17,885 lbs or approximately 9 tons waste generated per person. Now that is a lot! What's even more shocking the number grew 10% higher in 2018 than it was in 2017. Imagine how it looks it 2021.
So how good are we at composting or recycling? Most people think they do a good job by recycling their paper and aluminum products, but over half of the waste we generate ends up in landfills, 25% are recycled, and less than 15% are composted.
To learn more about the studies, visit https://www.epa.gov.
Everything has to go somewhere
So where do all the candy wrappers and zip-loc bags go if they not compostable or recyclable? You guessed it: they end up in landfill sites or even worse into the ocean (will tell you more about that later). Landfill sites take up a ton of space in the states. In California alone, there are 55 landfill sites and have 47 tons waste buried per capita. That is twice more than almost any other state. California holds the title for 6th place in having the most waster per capita. Number 1 is Michigan and #2 is Indiana.
Let's talk about the stuff that fill our landfills. Food waste contributes to over 20% of landfills. That should be compostable right? Yes, that's right. The good thing about compostable items is that they will break down fast. It takes two months for an apple to break down, the same goes for plain (not laminated) cardboard boxes.
For a product to be labeled as compostable, it must break down in a home compost within 180 days and within 90 days in commercial composting conditions.
What about the remaining 80%? Another 20% of the waste in landfill sites are filled with plastic. Most plastics can be recycled, but single-use plastic, such as a candy wrapper, zip loc bag or conventional treat bags, are not recyclable. But some plastics will also break down, right? Yes, that is correct: eventually it will break down. But longevity varies between different plastics so let us look at 3 different plastics; grocery bag, 10-20 years, plastic bottle 450 years, credit cards 1,000 years!
Here is another shocker, a credit card doesn't take the longest. It takes 1 million years to break down a glass bottle! Glass makes up 5% of our landfills.
These are are the categories that fill up the remaining 45 - 50%:
- Paper & Paperboard 13%
- Metals 10%
- Wood 8%
- Textiles 8%
- Yard Trimmings 6%
- Rubber & Leather 3%
Now let's talk about ocean-fills. I coined that myself since there is no equivalent word for ocean landfills. The quantity of waste found in our oceans is actually greater than land. Let's break it down and take one of the items above to keep it simple. A grocery bag will "swim" around in the ocean for about 10-20 years. At least two things happens now. In that timeframe, marine life such as a fish or Dolphin can eat or get caught in the plastic bag. Both scenarios lead to death. Same goes for sharks and other fish of the same size. Some folks are fearful of sharks and may not value their life but if sharks start disappearing, the eco-system in the ocean will be disturbed and will eventually break down resulting to the disappearance of most fish as well.
Why is the eco-system in the ocean important? If the ecosystems in the ocean breaks, the temperatures on land will raise, and we will see more nature catastrophes in the future.
If the sharks or dolphins don't eat the plastics the smaller fish and turtles may consume these harmful wastes thinking it is food. But they are smaller, so they will break up the bag instead of eating it whole, meaning they won't die. That is a good thing, right? No, not exactly. The plastic will break into micro plastic (plastic we can't see), and it will end up inside the fish. What happens to that fish? It will get caught by the fishermen, who will then sell it to the supermarkets where we shop and there it will be, on your table. Since we cannot detect the plastic with the naked eye, we consume the toxic micro-plastics. What comes around, goes around: bitter but true.
Single-use plastics are not only consumed by animals but also people. For this reality to change, we must use compostable/biodegradable plastic so they breakdown naturally with 180 days.
What can we do?
Can we do something about this other than not use single used plastic? The good is, yes we can. You are probably not aware but as a consumer, you have an incredible amount of power over what companies produce and where the waste goes. If we start advocating for compostable products and packaging, sorting our waste into compost and recycling, we can help the breakdown the waste in landfill sites and make sure the build-up in not constantly increasing but cyclically breakdown back down.
But how do we identify compostable items? All food waste is compostable, otherwise look for packaging that says compostable or biodegradable. One of signs below will also indicate the packaging is compostable.
We can actually compost at home. If you want to learn how, check out this link: https://www.rd.com/article/how-to-make-compost/
And for recyclable items: cardboard, hard plastic, paper, glass is all recyclable. You can learn more about what is recyclable in your county on your local waste pickup company webpage. each state and county has different parameters over what they can recycle. Yes, the lack of consistency is shocking...
Is that all we can do? Of course there is more we can do to reduce and hopefully stop the use of single-use plastic. The first step is to be aware and more mindful of the packaging we find for common products such as candy, toilet paper, or treat bags. Another action item is to start reusing items we have at home. For example, have a water bottle that is refillable and reusable with you, so you won't buy a single-use plastic bottle. Keep your leftovers in washable Tupperware containers instead of plastic wrap and many other plastic single use containers/storage bags/boxes. The list goes on...and we want to hear from you so please share your methodology and best practices with us below!
If we as consumers start to avoid single-use plastics and start to be more mindful of the products we consume, sort our trash, companies will follow to serve our needs. And we all share the need of having a healthy body and planet.
Let's bring it all home
Hopefully this blog has helped bring more awareness and mindfulness to the reality of landfills and the longevity of the products that live there, the significance of compost and recycling and finally how what we consume comes full circle back to us. If we elevate our mindsets and begin to consume products that are compostable and recyclable heathy, positive benefits and trends will follow. Our ecosystems will retain their natural and organic cycles, the Earth's temperature will stabilize and we will continuously breakdown, reuse and rebuild in a safe and sustainable flow.
Unfortunately, the last couple of years have seen more floods, wild fires, hurricanes than ever before due to the climate changes and the raising temperatures of our planet. There is absolutely something each and every one of us can do to help stabilize our home through daily practice, so don't lose hope: we are all in this together. This is our home that we share with all living things.
We hope that you found value in this blog. Please share your feedback or thoughts in the comments section.
Beginning our new year with new and improved resolutions, our next topic will cover climate change and how we can help our planet stabilize so stay tuned on Doganic.com.