Wednesday, June 8, 2016

There is plenty of landfill space but ...

Trash and recycling are interesting topics to really dive into, because a lot of what we think we know with certainty may be a case of "it depends". For example, recent evidence is showing that recycling is not always good for the environment. The blog post before this one has more readings on this topic.

Here is another article from the Washington Post on contamination from single-stream bins.

The main takeaway seems to be that some recycling is definitely very favorable both environmentally and economically (e.g. recycling aluminum cans prevents destructive mining of virgin bauxite and helps us avoid the polluting generated in processing the ore) while the benefits of recycling other materials may depend the material and your location . Glass recycling in particular looks much less appealing on both environmental and economic grounds than other products.

On the consumer demand side, the fact that we can now recycle products with very little effort may cause us to think less about reducing waste at the source. That is, if we know that we can simply drop a "recyclable" plastic water bottle into a recycling bin, we may worry less about our consumption of single-use beverage containers and other material. This is simple economics:  when the cost of doing something decreases, we tend to do more of it.

We also recently learned that we are disposing of much more municipal solid waste that originally estimated by the US EPA. However, we are not running out of landfill space any time soon.  The problem with sending MSW to landfills is not capacity, but no one really wants to live near one. Here is a link to a summary of a recent study suggesting that living within 5 km of a landfill could cause serious health effects.


Patricia Pierce said...

I agree that no one wants to live near landfills. However, someone has to. This means that the poorer people will have no choice but to live in these areas because no one else will. These people are likely to not have any health insurance and with the landfills causing health problems, this will only make their lives more difficult. Even if someone doesn't want to recycle for environmental reasons, there are social reasons to recycle.

Lexie Dempsey said...

I think that an important aspect of recycling that society needs to better address is that it is not a fix-all solution. Prior to this course I had no idea how economically inefficient recycling glass can be and assumed that everything that can be recycled should be no matter what. I also agree with the point that when people have easier access to recycling, they care less about addressing the real problem of consuming these products in the first place. Rather than just recycling everything, we need to pressure the producers to use more sustainable packaging and research the implications of their changes before letting them loose on the environment. A lot of this has to do with connivence. People buy tons of plastic water bottles and choose not to clean their containers prior to recycling because of connivence. Another example that comes to mind is the rise in popularity of Keurig cups despite their awful environmental impact. Recycling can be a great tool for curbing the amount of rubbish ending up in landfills if it is used in the right situations.

Evan Schillmoller said...

Before reading these past few articles on waste management practices and recycing I have to admit that I'm a bit surprised at the extremely high costs associated with all of it, especially recycling. In retrospect the prices of recycled products are generally a bit higher than those that are not, so it make sense that recycling must be a somewhat costly procedure. Regardless, however, would it not just make more sense to spend the extra time and money to develope products that are bio-degradable over a short period to help curb the endless flow of trash and costly recycling? Obviously not all products are compatible in bio-degradable packaging, however, a huge amount of products that could be still aren't packaged in environmentally conscious ways. Sure, the cost of packaging these products in new packaging would drive up prices, however, these costs would be offset by the decrease in demand for waste management companies. I'd much rather spend an extra $.15 on a box of cereal that could be put into a compost pile than pay $30/month to have my trash picked up.

Yes, there is still space for landfills for now, but as we know, no one wants to live near one, and just because something is available now doesn't mean it won't be a problem in the future... is it not a smarter solution to prepare for such an occurance? One of my favorite quotes of all time is "Invest in land because it's the one thing they're not making more of"

Austin McGrayne said...

I like the way this post began, "Trash and recycling are interesting topics to dive into"... "it depends." I feel that many environmental issues wax and wayne on the notion of "it depends" and I understand why; because so many solutions to environmental problems are completely situational.
But I do feel that society can find efficient solutions to disposing "trash" properly and recycling as much as possible, rather than falling back on the same old "it depends" attitude. I say this because of the technology that society has at it's disposal.
Eluding to the article at the bottom of the post that talks about health problems associated with proximity to landfills; such a study should serve as a wake up call to many Americans to produce less trash. And in my opinion the best way to do this is to get Americans to change their everyday diet.
It kills me everyday when I go to the grocery store and see all the packaging on foods that people shouldn't be eating in the first place. It seems that anything I buy at the store has some sort of plastic packaging on it that will eventually end up in a landfill. If Americans changed their diets to include more fruit and vegetables (which have natural packaging) and got out all of the junk food that has this terrible plastic packaging on it, landfills would start to see less and less action, which is great! American soil won't be used for trash and the American public will be healthier because they've changed their diets for the better.
So how does America cut down trash? Change your diet!

Kyle Galde said...

You bring up some very good points Austin. Many environmental issues do not get looked into because people believe that there are no present solutions to fix them so we end up just passing these problems down to the next generation, but trash is an issue that can most definitely be dealt with today. I really like that you bring up diet as a means of addressing the issue. eating fruits and vegetables as well as foods with recyclable packaging would be part of an easy solution to a huge problem. However, the way the market is set up today people are more likely to buy junk food through advertising and just because the average American tends to be pretty unhealthy. It is rather sad that these types of simple solutions exist and yet people will not participate because they don't want to change their current lifestyle. Simply changing your diet a bit could not only make you healthier, the environment would improve too.

Asia Askew said...

Composting was mentioned in the Washington Post article but I don't think it gets as much attention as it deserves. The article mentioned that banana peels and grass clippings have become a big source of methane gas in land fills but that could be reduced by home composting. Composting can have great benefits such as providing great soil for gardening. If the soil is then used for gardening then this could lead to people growing some of their own food instead of going to the store and buying the food with packaging which would later end up in a landfill. So with composting, the methane levels in landfills could decrease and the amount of packing that ends up in the landfills would decrease as well.

Marc Monace said...

How can we get these recycling costs down is the million dollar question! I was surprised to read that.