Our trash problem is getting worse every year, so what can we do about it? Here are 4 responsible solutions…
These days, it’s hard to pick up a paper or magazine or turn on the computer without seeing an article related to America’s trash problem. Americans create an outsized amount of trash, with the average American producing nearly 4.5 pounds of trash every single day – or 1,642 pounds per year for each one of us! (Comparatively, the global average is 1.6 pounds per day.) We have been dubbed “the throw-away society” due to our love for “disposable” items.
The top 3 things we throw away, in order, are food, plastic, and paper or paperboard items. Sadly, nearly 1/3 of these items are recyclable, but only 47% of paper and paperboard waste (some of the easiest items to recycle) actually end up being recycled.
While the waste problem may seem daunting when we look at the scale of the issue, in fact, there are many things that we can do – both individually and as a society – to cut down on our trash production and create a cleaner and more sustainable world for us all. Here are 4 effective strategies to help combat America’s trash problem:
1.) Combat Trash Production With Recycling
To increase recycling rates, many municipalities are testing single-stream recycling. Rather than residents sorting plastic, glass, cardboard, and paper, it’s all put into the same bin. Waste is then taken to a materials recovery facility, or MRF, for sorting and recycling. While this program has benefits, some cities can’t afford the sorting technology.
If your city doesn’t offer single-stream recycling, see this Recycling Guide for tips to simplify the process and ensure that all your recyclable items make it to the right facility.
2.) Waste-to-Energy Plants
Waste-to-energy plants use trash as fuel to generate power. “In 2015, the latest year for which stats are available, 71 waste-to-energy power plants and four other plants burned municipal solid waste, eliminating 29 million tons of garbage,” Arthur Murray of Save On Energy explains. “They generated nearly 14 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity – enough to power nearly 2.5 million homes for a year.”
Outside of recyclable and compostable items, biowaste and commercial garbage are ideal candidates for combustion.
3.) Compost Organic Waste
Another easy way to cut down on our trash problem is to compost. Yard trimmings account for 6.2% of waste put in landfills, yet organic matter can naturally decompose on its own.
In fact, the composting trend has already started gaining steam in the U.S. In 1990, Americans composted just 4.2 million tons of yard trimmings. In 2017, that number had increased to 24.42 million tons.
Whether it’s to gain the benefits of recycling organic materials at home or because your municipality is one that has embraced green landfills, composting is quickly becoming a leading way to combat America’s trash production. (See this site for loads of helpful tips on composting – no matter where you live.)
4. Practice Conscious Consumerism
Small changes add up to make a world of difference. For instance, the U.S. uses 102.1 billion plastic bags each year, so simply bringing reusable bags with you to the grocery store can drastically cut down on the amount of trash sent to landfills every year.
Pay attention to the products you buy, and strive to buy things with minimal packaging, or at the very least, packaging that is easily recyclable (most plastic packaging isn’t).
Food waste is another major source of waste in U.S. households, but composting technology is making it simpler to recycle your orange peels. Consider placing a small compost bin on the countertop or under your sink to collect kitchen scraps for your compost.
Take an active role in reducing the amount of trash you throw away each day, and you might be pleasantly surprised when you only have to take out the trash every two weeks!