For the past couple of months, we’ve been researching options for composting our food waste. It’s been a bit of a process as there aren’t commercial composting facilities available in the Indianapolis area. After much research, it looks like we may have found an option – we’ll update you with more details soon! In the mean time, we want to share with you why everyone should make an effort to recycle and compost. In order to do this, we need to first recognize and understand the bigger trash problem. Only then can we fully comprehend how to be a part of the solution. These discussions will take place in a series of blog posts; this is “The Trash Problem, Part 1: Landfills.”
After we throw away our trash, we don’t think twice about it – “out of sight, out of mind,” right? Wrong! We all should think more than twice about this as trash is a huge issue that endangers our health and our environment. Because we are a consumption-focused society, the amount of trash we create is increasing. As a result, landfills are filling up fast, and more pollution is created and released into our air, water and soils. And these issues will only get worse as the world’s population continues to grow. So what exactly happens to the trash we throw away? Municipalities usually handle trash one of two ways: landfilling and incineration. We’ll explore landfilling in this post.
A landfill is built into or on top of the ground and is designed to bury trash and isolate it from the air, rain and groundwater to prevent contamination. Once a layer of trash is dumped into a landfill, the trash is packed down and a layer of soil is laid down on top. This sandwich pattern continues until the landfill is at capacity, at which time the landfill is closed and monitored for contamination for up to 30+ years. While precautions may be taken, mismanagement of landfills often leads to contamination. Hence, one should never throw away hazardous items in the trash, such as batteries, chemicals, unused pharmaceuticals, etc., for they can leak into and contaminate our water systems.
Unfortunately, due to the isolation of the trash buried in a landfill, it has very limited contact with oxygen and moisture. As a result, even organic items such as newspapers may take a very long time to break down and many inorganic items will never fully decompose. Furthermore, when organic materials (yard, food and paper waste) are decomposed in landfills by bacteria in the absence of oxygen, methane (a greenhouse gas) is produced and released into the atmosphere. Essentially, the more trash we create and send to landfills, the more methane we produce and the more we contribute to global warming. In addition, as more of our precious land is occupied by landfills, there will be a higher risk of contamination of our fresh air and vital waters.
As you can see, landfills are not a good solution to the trash problem. Although, there are currently few alternatives to handling our trash, there are ways we can help the situation. We can reduce the amount of trash we send to landfills by reducing the amount of trash we create, recycling as much as possible and composting organic materials to be reused in conditioning soils or in gardens, as will be discussed in upcoming weeks as we continue on with The Trash Problem series.