[audio:http://wamcradio.org/EarthWise/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/EW-11-07-12-Household-Trash.mp3|titles=EW 11-07-12 Household Trash]
Americans dispose of an average of 7.1 pounds of trash per day, or well more than a ton yearly. That’s per person, and it doesn’t include what we put in the recycling bin. Our non-recycled trash goes largely to landfills, some of them a long distance away. Trash is transported by truck, train, or even ship—all of which use fossil fuels.
Recycling makes us feel virtuous, but it also has a carbon footprint. Bottles, cans, paper, and household hazardous wastes are transported to distant recycling facilities. Electronic waste is sometimes transported across the ocean to China or India. An MIT study that put radio tracers on Seattle trash found that a printer cartridge traveled almost 4000 miles to be recycled.
Edward Humes is a Pulitzer Prize winner whose most recent book is “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash.” He reports that other countries have lower per-person trash rates, in part because of laws that hold manufacturers responsible for packaging waste. Also, some European countries are incinerating trash to generate electricity, a process that has been made possible by technology that eliminates toxic emissions from burning trash.
Better than using all of that trash to generate electricity, would be to reduce waste in the first place. We should buy items with minimal packaging, drink tap water instead of bottled, and keep our cell phones for three years instead of the typical 18 months. These decisions would greatly reduce our trash and the emissions associated with transporting it.
Photo, taken on December 28, 2008, courtesy of Alan Stanton via Flickr.