Waste Management One of the questions researchers are trying to answer is what materials in the landfills and waste stream can be reduced? Some interesting discoveries about what we think is in landfills, what is found in landfills, and what has happened to the garbage over time. Digs found that less than one percent by weight and volume of each landfill was fast-food packaging. People often estimate that diapers take up 5 to 40 percent of the landfill, however the Garbage Project found that diapers accounted for less than one percent by weight and 1.5 percent by volume of the landfills.
The Garbage Project found that plastic soda bottles
and most other rigid plastic containers were squashed. The majority of plastics by volume were plastic film bags such as cleaner, grocery, and garbage bags. Plastics accounted for about 9 to 12 percent of the landfills by volume and about 5 percent by weight although sometimes people estimate plastics take up to 30 to 70 percent of
the municipal solid wastes.
The public often sees newspapers as being recyclable or biodegradable and underestimates their effect on landfills. Newspapers made up about 14.4 percent by volume of the landfills studied. Even though newspapers can be recycled, they represented the largest single item in landfills by both weight and volume. Since 1970, paper had increased in landfills and accounted for about 34
percent by weight and 38 percent by volume of the
Biodegradability: Reality or Myth?
Biodegradation is a process where microorganisms
secrete enzymes to chemically break down material they eat. Most within a few weeks or months. Laws have been proposed in some staffs which would ban any packaging that does not decompose in one year. The Garbage Project discovered, however, that decomposition in landfills may not work. Biodegradation may be a longer process than we thought. Food and yard waste in easily identifiable form were found in the landfills even after being buried for years. Some decomposition of organics seems to have occurred, but substantial quantities of all kinds of paper also were found. Project Garbage found no major changes in the percentage of paper found in garbage dug up in the later 1970s and that from the mid 1980s, which means paper was not decomposing rapidly. When Project Garbage dug up refuse deposited between 1970 and 1974,
they found paper fractions still readable, and grass
clippings, a 1972 T-bone steak, and five hot dogs still preserved.
Conditions are not ideal in landfills for
biodegradation. Some food does degrade, but at a very slow rate or about 50 percent every 20 years, according to the Garbage Project. The remainder of the refuse in landfills seems to have retained its original weight volume, and form even after 25 years.
Reduce, Recycle, Reuse
Waste management refers to the use of a variety of
waste management practices to safely handle the household waste stream. Effective waste management requires an integrated approach -- the combination of a number of technologies including reducing, recycling, composting, sanitary landfill and waste-to-energy. Using the integrated approach does not mean all these options are implemented, but it presents options for individuals and communities to consider.
People can reduce the volume of garbage they generate by making thoughtful choices when they buy products. Examples include providing your own reusable grocery bags, using both sides of paper, buying products with reduced packaging when safe to do so, buying products in recyclable packaging, repairing existing items, not buying products if they are not needed, and minimizing the amount of toxic substances used.
Reuse of products. Renew the life of an object by
redefining its purpose and using it again. Examples
include extending the life of an item by repair or
modification or by creating new uses for items within the household or for others.
Recycling of materials including composting.
Collect and reprocess manufactured materials for
reuse either in the same form or as part of a different product. Recycling includes collecting and separating products, preparing them to buyer specifications, selling to markets, processing, and eventual reuse of materials.
Landfill and waste combustion/energy recovery. Manage those wastes which cannot be recycled, reused, or reduced. Estimates vary regarding the resources saved by recycling. The Solid Waste Handbook suggests that each ton of paper recycled saves 17 eight-inch trees and 390
gallons of oil. It produces 23-74 percent less air
pollution and 35 percent less water pollution than
production of paper from virgin fibers. Recycling
aluminum is estimated to use 95 percent less energy than making it from raw ore and creates 95 percent less air pollution and 97 percent less water pollution. Recycling glass saves 4-32 percent of the energy needed to manufacture new glass and produces 20 percent less air pollution.
The lack of clearly identified markets for recycled
products results in considerable price variation as well as making it a difficult business to manage. A list of recycling centers or firms is available from the NSRA Recycling Hotline, 1-800-248-7328.Consumers also can contact volunteer organizations, city or county officials, sanitary professionals, Extension offices, local or area recycling organizations, or persons already recycling items.
Consumers also can write the product manufacturer for leads on where to recycle items. Although some recycled product markets fluctuate, it's important to identify the market before collection at both the household and community level. If there are viable and stable markets for used materials such as glass. Aluminum, paper, steel, plastics, tires, and used oil, recycling can divert these items from the waste stream. The consumer plays an
important part in recycling and in creating demand for products made from recycled or post-consumer waste through consumer purchase and use.
Product labeling varies. Products made from consumer waste may be labeled post consumer. Recycled products may mean the product has been in the consumer"s hands at one time or that the materials contained in the product are made in part from trimmings or wastes from the manufacturing process. Recyclable means a market for the material exists someplace.
Composting of yard wastes (grass, leaves, and brush) can save a significant portion of landfill space and create soil additives or mulch. Another option is not to collect grass clippings at all. Several staffs and cities have banned yard wastes from landfills. The EPA estimates yard wastes make up about 18 percent of the municipal solid waste stream. Generation rates vary by season, year and region.
What Can You Do?
First, handle household waste and household hazardous waste responsibly.
Second, become informed. Find out all you can about the local solid waste issues in your community and examine several viewpoints.
Third, search out information about products you use every day and stay abreast of recent research. For example, there is considerable debate about the true biodegradability of plastics. Learn the recycling symbols and consider the amount of packaging used in the products you purchase. Think before you buy.
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