This article appeared in the on-line magazine for actors The November Networker, 2009
After my last newsletter, Hugh from Connecticut wrote to suggest that I write about landfills and why they are bad. I loved the idea because it made me think about landfills and I always kind of took it for granted that people would know why landfills are bad until just recently, when people started asking the same question. “Why is it bad to throw out electronics and batteries? Why is plastic bad in the landfills? It all gets in one big pile and gets covered up.”
Landfills are considered dumps where trash can be collected for burial. They’re also used as a storage place for soil and rocks or for recycling materials to be sorted and transferred. The United States has between 3000-4000 active landfills (meaning that trash is being dumped in them every day) and between 7000-10000 inactive landfills and a large portion of them have no liners.
Landfills that are used for waste burial have materials such as food waste, paper (books, magazines, mail, boxes), plastic (storage stuff, bags, containers, office supplies, beauty products, cleaning containers, etc), electronics (TV, microwave, vacuum, old PCs, floppy discs, VHS tapes, etc.), glass/ceramics (bottles, jars, containers, glasses, kitchen ware, window, etc.), household items (pots, pans, containers, rugs, cell phones, etc.), furniture, toys (wood, plastic and PVC), paint and art materials, clothes, pet waste, diapers, etc. Pretty much everything that we throw out ends up in a landfill. There is no limit on stuff I see in my apartment’s waste bin including a load of chemicals from cleaning supplies, beauty products, art supplies, medicine, etc.
When all this ends up in the trash bin, a big truck hauls it away. Some of the stuff gets sorted, but most of it doesn’t. Stuff that one can get money for, be it recyclables or furniture that is still in good shape, or miscellaneous stuff that then gets sold at a flea market, might get pulled out before the load makes it to the landfill. Stuff like plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, old batteries, PC, TV, paint, waste, broken items, old appliances, sofas, medical stuff (including germs) can’t be sold and so they end up all in a big dump.
The newer dumps have a liner to protect all the leaking stuff from getting into our water and soil. Think of it like a big plastic pool that gets filled with junk, instead of water, and then it gets covered up with dirt and soil and another liner gets thrown over the top.
This liner is only 1/10 of an inch thick and when it disintegrates, everything that it has held will seep into our soil and then into our water. From paint to other chemicals, rust, gases that formed and everything that collected in that covered dump, including maggots and all kinds of bugs that grew there.
These liners in these landfills are a short-term solution to a simple problem, hiding our trash. There is no attempt to manage or process the trash, simply to bury it and forget about it for a generation, at which time the liner will most likely fail.
Once full and covered with topsoil, the capped landfills can then be turned into valuable real estate such as the 2000 Sydney Olympic Park, but they require constant management to ensure that there are no leaks that will harm humans and the environment. Success stories are balanced by horror stories of parks and housing developments that have filled with poisonous and flammable gases from the living waste that lives under the ground.
Imagine putting your trash from just one week into a plastic bag, then tying it closed for 30 days. When you open that bag, it would be no surprise to find a rotten, smelly, poisonous mess. You’d pass out from that stink and from what grew in that bag. Yuck! Now imagine that thousand fold, just from your own trash. Really gross. That’s what happens when we dump everything and pay someone to haul it off where we can’t see and smell that stink. But it is still around. Just not in front of our nose.
When one of these huge landfills gets filled up, it gets covered up and then new land is sought to bury our trash in. This new land has to be completely cleared just for our trash.
Communities and nature suffer from these landfills, from water poisoning, bad air quality from the trucks that stir up dirt and that haul trash, noise, injuries, gases, etc. The government is doing everything they can to keep these landfills according to guidelines, but there are a lot of illegal burials and maintenance not on our radar until some bad news leaks out about water or wildlife being contaminated.
We can really help reduce what goes into the landfill and help future generations and help our planet. Animals don’t use anything that is not recyclable or reusable. We should take an example from them.
We should only use, buy, or make stuff that is made by nature or that has the least chemical components.
We should avoid double-wrapped and packaged things and can make a difference by leaving the extra packaging at the store counter so that the manufacturers will be notified to cut back on packaging.
We shouldn’t dump anything on the sidewalk or in a back road somewhere, but dispose of everything properly (sidewalk dumping can leak chemicals into our ground water that animals and plants drink up and can die from). Use recycling centers, electronic waste center, cell phone and battery drop offs, ink cartridge recycling, etc.
We shouldn’t use anything that is a one-time use item (plastic bag, plastic cups, utensil and ware, containers, paper napkins, printouts, etc.), but carry what we can with us and ask stores for ceramics (eating and drinking out of disposable items is like drinking or eating out of trash because we know it will end up there).
Give away stuff that you don’t need anymore to a local charity, Goodwill, your neighbors or friends. Post on Freecycle.
Encourage your friends and family to be less wasteful and set an example.
Every little bit we do helps to reduce our footprint.
And for an interesting read, check out Marijke Rijsbermans site. A very eye opening and definitely interesting blog about a woman’s love affair with trash and landfills.
And for some videos check out Class Project: The Garbage Movie, a documentary of students aged 8-13 who embark on a school project to find out all they can about garbage and its impact on the environment.