Save the Planet: Recycle

When you open the lid of your 85-gallon trash can and plop the over-stuffed plastic bag on top of other similarly stuffed bags, jam down the lid and haul it to the street on garbage pickup day, do you ever wonder what happens to it?

Where are we going to put all this trash?

Do you ever wonder where that trash goes after the truck and the sanitation workers pick it up?

I do, and it concerns me.

I think parks and rec professionals can do something to help.

The average person produces about 4.5 pounds of trash per day, according to national statistics.

In a city of 37,000, that comes to about 167,000 pounds of waste, each and every day. In a week, that rate mushrooms to more than 1 million pounds.

The math beyond that is simply staggering.

The waste comes in many forms: plastic food containers and wrapping, Styrofoam, food, plastic, glass, aluminum, steel, tin, paper. Of these items, a significant percentage is recyclable.

In the stuffed plastic bag in the curbside trash can, these items are worthless and possibly harmful, destined for a landfill near you or someone else.

Some of the aforementioned items are the “acceptable” materials for landfills. Also in many of those bags are unacceptable items: paints, TVs, lightbulbs, motor oil, batteries, electronics, medicines and medical supplies.

These are the items that should not be in a landfill, and many are not even recyclable. Some, like motor oil, fluorescent bulbs, medicines and paints, must be singled out for special disposal.

But even if items are “acceptable” for landfills, how many landfills can the earth accommodate? It seems to me there will come a time when this excessive trash production will catch up to us.

Then what will we do?

Right now, some larger metropolitan areas have to truck or barge their trash to distant landfills or incinerators. Burning trash brings its own set of issues, like where are all the burned toxins floating to?

But that doesn’t really solve the excessive garbage problem; it just ships it to someone else’s back yard. And once those sources are filled, then where?

The ocean? That’s already filling up.

A 2008 article in Discover magazine gives details about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a current-driven, swirling mass of garbage estimated to be one and one-half times the size of the U.S. and 100 feet deep.

How about outer space? Lots of room there, right?

Well, consider that the few satellites we put up there occasionally fall to earth when their orbits decay.

Can you imagine floating tons of trash of all descriptions in space? Eventually, the Weather Channel could be predicting trash storms as well as the weather.

Again, it seems like a Band-Aid fix to a gaping chest wound.

It seems to me that taking care of the excessive trash issue is like shedding body weight. In most cases, it’s a matter of either reducing the intake or increasing the output. Either don’t eat as much junk, or work out more, or both.

Reducing the trash going into the equation seems like the best way of controlling how much trash is going downstream.

That’s an easy thing to say, but way harder to actually accomplish.

As humans go about their busy daily lives, saving the planet ends up far at the bottom of their priority “to do” list.

As individuals, we can recycle things like cardboard, glass, plastic, paper or tin. It is amazing how much that reduces what goes into the kitchen trash can.

But I wonder how much substantive impact that really has on a problem of this magnitude.

It comes down to economics. If there isn’t some financial benefit for someone to go into the business of recycling things, it won’t happen.

And in the meantime, the trash heap continues to grow, and become more toxic.

I guess as we move into our Friday, February 10th, 2012, we should look at the bright side. There are more people recycling; there are more people out there looking for ways to derive a living from recycling discarded items; more people are aware of the issue.

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