The United States has gone from around 8,000 landfills in 1988 to just around 2,000 today. Here in Missouri, we have 18 active landfills. Much of our Kansas City metro trash is transferred around 86 miles away to a landfill in Sedalia while our few local landfills limit how much is accepted to maintain longevity. This is the case nearly everywhere in our country. Depending on how much we are able and willing to recycle, we will be out of landfill space between 2031 and 2036. Of the existing landfills we currently have, only fifteen years / 15% capacity will remain starting this year. Here in the Midwest, this year will be the beginning of an average ten-year lifespan left on our landfills. ~ Solid Waste Environmental Excellence Protocol
As trash slowly degrades, methane and carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere. Though more modern landfill liners last much longer than their thin predecessors, they will all eventually leak or fail allowing a myriad of chemicals into the soil and groundwater.
So, what can we do?
- Avoid Trash in The First Place
Create reusable habits. Whenever possible, use your own coffee mugs, reusable cups, straws (metal straws are easy to clean), tableware and cloth napkins (if getting to-go, ask them to not give you plastic tableware, straws or napkins and when indoor dining becomes an option again, and bring your own leftover containers.)
Use green bags when you can and ask for paper bags when you can’t. Paper at least comes from a renewable resource, is biodegradable, more easily recyclable and reusable. Plastic bags are a petroleum product, not from a renewable resource, never completely biodegrade, and are not easily recycled.
Shop smart. Avoid foods packaged in foam and plastic when you can. Watch for excessive packaging such as individually wrapped cut cheese. Look for cardboard containers instead of plastic in items like milk. Choose glass over aluminum and plastic when possible in items like fruit juice and barbeque sauce. Glass is easily recycled and usually processed locally with the added benefit of much of the new products made from recycled glass being used locally.
- Love What You Have
On average, American women have 30 outfits while in 1930 they owned 9. We have so much STUFF, one out of ten of us have rented storage units. For more crazy statistics like this check out this blog. If you have spent the last year primarily wearing stretch pants and blue jeans, you’re not alone. When the time does come that fashion seems to matter once again, choose to opt for sensibility. You can look presentable without participating in the latest fad. You can also get creative with what you already have. Sewing a torn shirt or replacing a button isn’t rocket science. Hemming a skirt kind of is, but there are professionals out there and talented grandmothers happy to make alterations for you.
Speaking of fads, if we were to follow every home interior trend, we would be redecorating our homes at least once a year. Instead, express yourself with what you already own, find a thrift version of what you just have to have, and again get creative and make a few of your own bits of décor. Minimalism is a choice that should only be made if truly wanted. Instead, you can give away or recycle what you’re never going to use and pack up what you love for the next time you have a whim to change things up a bit.
Nearly 50% of our trash is food. FIFTY percent! Yikes! That’s actual tons of potential soil nutrients that could be used to grow nourishing food that instead is rotting in landfills creating methane. Much of that food could have been given to people who need it. Plan ahead before going to the store, learn to love leftovers and compost, compost, compost!
- Buy Used & Locally Made
A massive amount of trash and toxins are created when new products are made. Those products are then put in large containers and shipped to warehouses where they are put into smaller containers and shipped to the store, or you (oh yeah, you get all kinds of packaging too). When you buy used you are not only saving the need to use natural resources for a new version of that item, you will only get the item and not all the garbage that originally came with it.
When you buy locally made items you’re more likely to find the things you need without all the disposable wrapping and ALL those shipping packages! Plus you will be supporting your local economy. Many locally made and grown products are also more likely to be more sustainable in origin with a much smaller carbon and toxin footprint.
It is unrealistic to expect all of humanity to cease generating trash, however, let’s work toward that direction before we start talking about sending trash to the moon.
Audrey L Elder