We are all aware of landfills but why don’t we critically examine the idea? Landfills are sacrificed patches of land. They ARE land. They ARE part of nature. A landfill is one big pile of litter. An area where biodegradable and toxic waste become a mishmash of stuff. Landfills may contribute to the loss of biodiversity 1, accumulation of methane in the atmosphere1, loss of arable land, degradation of water quality by landfill effluent2, and a slew of other problems.
Now that you are staring at the stark contrast between the pile of litter and the natural environment, don’t you feel like thinking about solutions? I know I do.
But first a few more dirty details…
A little bit of waste adds up:
A Canadian produces 894 kg of municipal waste per year1. It is no wonder Canada gets a “D” grade in terms of municipal waste generation1. Yikes, maybe it’s time to reconsider our actions.
So, why single-use?
Whether it be single-use or use-a-few-times, these items are most likely destine for a landfill. Why do you use these items? Are they convenient? Have you been influenced by manufactured demand (whoa, keyword)? In other words, have you been encouraged to use a product you do not need… but you feel like you need it, at least, you have been told that you need it 3. These products include plastic shopping bags, plastic water bottles, disposable pens, disposable dish ware, plastic cutlery etc. More recently as demand is falling for unsustainable products, industries continue to fight for manufactured demand. Literally resist and debate. For instance, there has been much opposition to plastic bag bans from plastic industries who argue that consumers require plastic shopping bags (I was even contacted with regard to my campaign for a city of 8000 people! Yeah, they’re worried).
Rest assured, the movement away from disposable items is very important!
Think about the entire production cycle of a disposable product… extraction of the resources (in the case of plastic this requires oil), transport of the raw materials, industrial processes to convert the materials into products, transport of the products to stores, transport home by the consumer then disposal in a landfill.
Plastic recycling… is unfortunately not the solution:
Why? Plastics recycling is very misleading. The swirl of arrows in a triangle looks very sustainable, it is amazingly luring for conscious consumers. Plastic recycling, however, is not a form of recycling. It is actually called down-cycling3. Doesn’t sound as nice does it? Unlike glass and aluminum recycling which works very well4, plastics have a very short cycle. For example, plastic water bottles which are often made from new plastic are converted to a secondary plastic which takes on the form of plastic lumber or carpet. The secondary products cannot be further recycled and are thus destine for the landfill! 3 Furthermore, even if you put something in your recycle bin… it is not guaranteed to be recycled because the recycling company may not have a market for reselling it!5 Don’t get me wrong, recycling is not a bad idea and people should continue to recycle their plastic items, my point is that there is a better solution.
PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS! How to avoid contributing to landfill waste.
If you want to see results, reducing is the way to go! Reducing avoids the entire production cycle of waste.
More specific ideas:
- Reuse a reusable water bottle! (aluminum or steel)
How can you teach yourself to remember? If you forget to bring it with you one day, don’t default to a plastic water bottle, restrict yourself to water fountains! Water fountains are less convenient so the experience of being limited to fountains may help you become more dependent on your reusable water bottle so you will be less likely to forget to bring it in the future!
p.s. Are you afraid of tap water? Do you think bottled water is a safer alternative? Most of the time it is not. Check out this video.
- Re-use those reusable bags… for everything you purchase!
Be sure to hang reusable bags on your house doorknob, or in an obvious location, after the bag is emptied. This way you are likely to put it back in your car or grab it on your way out the door. An even easier idea is to buy compact reusable bags which fold into a little square, they fit in a purse!
What if you forget reusable bags one day? It is very easy to carry your items in your arms or to roll them out in a cart (if you’re worried about looking like a thief, just hold the receipt in plain view). An experience such as this will help you remember reusable bags, whereas, giving in to plastic bags will just encourage the bad habit of forgetting.
- Put produce in reusable bags. Use small bags or you might not even need a bag at all! Don’t worry, your bananas will be fine.
- Avoid plastic by buying the same item… but in a beautiful glass jar! Old-time ketchup, jam in jars.
- Glass jars are perfect for storing fridge foods, so plastic zip-up bags have met their match. Where do these wonderful glass jars come from? They are free by pulling labels off from pickle jars, jam jars, pasta jars etc.
- Try sticking to homemade meals instead of takeout or prepared meals. Check out some online recipes, they’re great!
- If the above is a crazy suggestion for you, how about bringing your own containers with you to a restaurant? This way you will avoid styrofoam take-out containers.
- Fill glass jars with food from bulk food stores by washing and reusing plastic bags.
- Use toilet paper bags (or any other essential product bags) as garbage bags to avoid purchasing garbage bags.
- Female? Check out Lunapads.
It’s a small challenge, but we can do it.
- The Conference Board of Canada. “Municipal Waste Generation.” July 2011. Web. 18 Mar 2012. <http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/environment/municipal-waste-generation.aspx>
- Teuten, Emma et al. “Transport and release of chemicals from plastics to the environment and to wildlife.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences. 364. (2009): 2027-2045. <http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1526/2027.full.pdf html>.
- Leonard, Annie. “Movies – The story of bottled water.” The Story of Stuff. N.p., 22 March 2010. Web. 18 Mar 2012. <http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/>.
- Kazmeyer, Milton. “Energy to Recycle Glass Bottles vs. Aluminum Cans vs. Plastic.” Green Living. National Geographic, 2011. Web. 8 Mar 2012. <http://greenliving.nationalgeographic.com/energy-recycle-glass-bottles-vs-aluminum-cans-vs-plastic-2376.html>.
- Southeastern Chester County Refuse Authority. “Why can’t I recycle everything?.” 2010. Web. 19 Mar 2012. <http://seccra.org/why-we-cantdont-recycle-everyt/>.