Amber Keenoy, LEED AP BD+C – Principal, Star Estimation and Consulting Services
The issue of waste is not new. Since human inception, we have created waste. Waste comes in many forms; food, human effluence, consumption of various gadgets, plastic waste, toxic waste, animal waste, and so on. The list is endless as each and every day, each individual human on the planet (and we are currently hovering around 7 Billion total people on planet earth) creates waste. According to the EPA, on average Americans produce 4.5 pounds of trash per day. Assuming that the average person worldwide creates 3 pounds of trash per day (to account for differences in geography, weather, wealth and culture), the total amount of waste per day which is created worldwide is at 21,000,000,000 pounds or 10,500,000 tons of waste generated each and every day. This is quite staggering when considering facts such as on average in the US, only 35 percent of the waste produced is recycled. In Europe the average for recycling is improved due to waste to energy and composting, thus EU averages 50% diversion from landfill overall. Asia is across the board on its recycling rates and varies widely by country. South America generally averages 40% diversion from landfill.
Factoring in an average worldwide waste diversion from landfill, we can assume out of the 10,500,000 tons of trash generated each day, an average of 40% is diverted from landfill. This still leaves 6,300,000 tons of trash on average which goes to a landfill each day.
What are some potential solutions to this mess? Does it make any sense to keep going about our daily lives with a “business as usual” mode of thought when it comes to consumption and waste? Have people really considered where all the waste we generate is going to? Do people assume that our world governments are handling the problems for us?
The facts and figures suggests that worldwide action needs to happen so that our trash doesn’t eventually overcrowd us and more importantly so that we stop sending so much of our trash to landfills to sit sometimes for decades or hundreds of years emitting noxious gasses and polluting the planet (air, ground, and water).
In the short term, a solution for trash diversion from landfill starts at home; each and every person’s home. Humankind needs to seriously assess the results of our excessive behaviors. Eat less and create less waste; less sewage, less packaging, less travel involved with bringing the product to your home = less waste. Unfortunately there are people in this world who suffer greatly and do not need to eat less or produce less waste as they are struggling for their very survival. However, in this world there are many whom are prone to excess and not in a life or death struggle. These people continuously consume excess quantities of food, liquor, smoke, electronics, gadgets, creature comforts, and just plain “stuff”. People argue that we should enjoy our privileges but what about the consequences?
One solution to our waste problems includes using waste to energy. Europe utilizes waste to energy far more than the US, however there are a few waste to energy facilities along the eastern and western seaboards in the US. There is also the possibility to use the emissions from landfills CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) and capture the landfill gas (LFG) emissions. Captured LFG emissions could be converted into electricity to power homes and businesses or into compressed natural gas to power cars. Composting is quite often overlooked both at home and at the municipal levels. The EU generally utilizes higher percentages of composting at a municipal level in comparison to the rest of the world.
More solutions include re-use of existing products such as in construction re-use of building products and in our homes re-use of what we buy such as a second life for those plastic containers. In the engineering and manufacturing phases the life cycle of products should be extended significantly so that the products take ages to actually enter a landfill. Many materials which are currently comprised within our cherished possessions and status quo toxic materials need to be replaced with new materials such as bio based. Why package food in plastic? What about bio based plastics? Why use so much packaging for items such as razors? Do they really need the triple wrap?
The solutions to the world’s trash are not limited to those suggested above. There are many solutions which are currently utilized and should be replicated on large scales and there are solutions swimming around in people’s heads. The youth, the college bound, the young engineers and scientists – these people are part of the planet’s hope. They need to start thinking outside of the box before they become trapped in the box. There are so many innovative and new technologies which need to be analyzed. Societies systems and practices must change for the world to become a sustainable and long lasting habitat for humans.
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