Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Here is an interesting read from Brian Palmer at Slate regarding trash and landfill space in the US. I found the landfill statistics particularly interesting. When we recycle our trash, we typically think in terms of "saving land" from being used for garbage disposal. But, in most states, land availability is not a problem at all.  So, when you enjoy your non-use benefits from recycling, think in these terms as well.  I also find the NIMBY issue interesting. Despite the plethora of land available for trash disposal, no one wants a landfill near their city. As a result, we ship a lot of trash, creating more pollution along the way.  Of course, this is just one of many pollution problems that are simply outsourced to other locations.

As discussed in the lecture, recycling can create an host of benefits, including reduced energy use, reduced air pollution and reduced extraction of virgin raw materials. How does the US stack up when it comes to MSW generation and recycling? Not so great.

Check out some stats here from the UN, and here from Nationmaster.

This graphic is pretty cool too.


Troy Daniel said...

My mother sells garbage dumpster to large corporations as a living so I get to hear her talk about landfills all the time if I go with her to work. She would always tell me about the green house methane gas produced by all the garbage rotting in the ground and how they have clay and plastic layers the prevent seeping of the "gloop" that was talked about in the first article. I did find it very interesting that the land would not run out for centuries but it still seems to me like we should try and not use it all up as fast as we can and do our part to recycle our aluminum, glass, and plastics.

The second article made me very happy to see that recycling has saved about 70 billion tons of products that can be reused. It now makes sense why the government does not mandate recycling, because it is a local issue, but I wish all the local governments would require it done right. From the nature shows I have watched in the past about trash washing up on beaches in a far off place it seems to be mostly bottles and other things that can easily be recycled. Plus there is just some many benefits that come along with recycling in a monetary sense.

Robert Clark said...

I found the first article very interesting. I was unaware of the problem of local dumps vs. regional landfills. I can see why it would be a hard decision to find the right balance between landfills and dumps. It could definitely use a CBA but It would be very difficult to gather the data. I think that this just shows how important recycling can, as shown in the second article. My uncle works for a large sewage treatment plant up near Philadelphia, and he was able to give me a tour last summer. I would recommend going to one if you are given a chance. It is really interesting how they work.

Donald Zimmer said...

I've always found the NIMBY concept described to be very problematic to waste disposal. While waste from consumption of materials is inevitable, where to put all of this waste is a reoccurring problem. As stated in the first article, there is plenty of land available for waste disposal, but with a continuously increasing population, it would seem that the placement of a "dump" or landfill almost anywhere is going to be infringing upon someones rights to fully enjoy their property as well as decreasing the value of that property. Having said that, however, all of the waste generated by society has to go somewhere . It would seem reasonable to suggest that this waste be placed in areas that are in more rural communities where a limited number of people are affected, or communities already affected by waste disposal, but with both of these options, there is a risk of continuously singling out certain groups of people that may be in the same socioeconomic class, or of certain racial backgrounds. This seems unethical. For this reason I would be very interested to see a step by step record of how these decisions are made, and what groups of people are ultimately the most affected.

amyeballard said...

These were both informational articles. I have always thought even with some of the downsides of recycling, in regards to plastics that recycling still outweighs that of producing another additional plastic bottle that will potentially end up in a landfill.
It would be an interesting study to see on average how much CO2 is emitted from cross state travels hauling trash and compare it to the same amount of emissions from the trash staying put.
People do not seem to have a problem with creating a mound of trash. It is a part of our everyday life to produce a lot of it with out thinking of the end result. Out of sight out of mind mentality.

Joe Rodriguez said...

I also found the first article to be very insightful. While I was well aware of the technologically advanced landfills, I was unaware that in the last 25 years there has been a 75% decline in the number of disposal facilities. I was surprised to find out that the act of shipping garbage to the nearest disposal facility creates such a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

While shipping the garbage may in turn create more pollution than letting it sit in a dump would have, I understand first hand why people do not want a dump located near their house. The small town I'm from nearly had a disposal facility built on the outskirts of our town. There was so much disapproval of the project that it was eventually canceled. While our country has more than enough room for all of our trash, I believe the problem is finding the appropriate place to dispose of it.

Martin Dailey said...

This article is very interesting. I never would've though that there would be a reduced number of landfills today than it would've been 25 years ago. Should've read this article before the test! I never knew of the problem between local dump sites and regional landfills. I never knew how large scale these waste management facilities and landfills were.

Will Davis said...

It was very surprising to me just how much trash disposal is worth to some states. I think it is interesting seeing the comparison between mega-landfills and dumps too. For many years the pollution policy was to dilute in our country (many landfills) and now it has become to concentrate and contain, just as the mega-landfills have done. I would like to see how stringent the regulations are for the landfills. Since they are so much larger and produce larger amounts of leachate I would hope that the regulations on liners and the type of soil they are built on is stricter.
I recently learned that much of our recyclables are shipped over seas to small Asian communities. The small towns that receive much of the recyclables have an economy which is completely dependent on trash shipments. The communities, in the videos I saw, were covered in trash. The workers who separated the trash never wore masks and rarely wore gloves. After learning about this I wanted to know more about the recycling process. I have been a recycler for years and would not change now, but I wanted to know the other side. I read a few articles ( about the cons of recycling. Of course, there are still emissions from the processes involved in recycling, but none of the articles had concrete reasoning for not recycling. None of them talked about where we ship many of our recyclables though.