Though most people are aware of the global climate crisis, excessive waste isn’t always the first thing on our minds. Yet, it is crucial that we become educated on the ways that excessive waste hurts the environment and learn what we can do to help. A good place to start is by practicing the three R’s: reduce reuse recycle.
How do sustainability issues affect the environment?
Of the 292.4 million tons of trash generated in the United States each year, about 146.1 million tons end up in landfills. Only 69 million tons get recycled, and 25 million tons get composted. That means two-thirds of trash winds up in landfills or incinerators.
The U.S. has only 4 percent of the world’s population but generates three times more waste than the global average. Of 6.3 metric tons of plastic waste produced per year, only 9 percent gets recycled. It’s no wonder that there are over 2000 plastic landfills in this country.
The effects of waste on the environment are devastating. Improper waste disposal results in soil contamination that harms plants, animals, and humans. Landfills emit methane gasses that contribute to the climate crisis.
Waste enters bodies of water and harms marine life and ecosystems. Plastic entanglement kills 100,000 marine animals every year. One million seabirds die from plastic pollution, and 100 percent of baby sea turtles have plastic in their bodies.
Excess waste also pollutes the air we breathe. Gasses and chemicals from landfills evaporate into the air. Incineration causes harmful emissions of carbon dioxide and acid rain. Emissions and pollution contribute to global warming and cause health problems such as asthma, birth defects, cancer, and heart disease.
Clearly, more needs to be done to address the problem of excessive waste.
Perhaps the best way to reduce waste is to stop making so much of it in the first place. Creating new things uses materials and energy unnecessarily. When we reuse things, we save money, reduce waste, and help sustain the planet for the future.
One of the largest areas of waste in this country is food. Between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply in the U.S. is thrown out each year making up 22 percent of municipal solid waste (MSW).
Composting is a great way to reduce the amount of food we waste. By transforming organic matter into fertilizer for gardening and landscaping, composting improves soil quality and reduces contamination. Some communities offer composting programs that make it easy by providing bins and curbside pickup. If there is no program in your area, you can create your own composting bin.
Other ways to reduce and reuse
There are many other ways to reduce waste. Buying locally-sourced products eliminates the waste that results from the transportation process. Buying in bulk and using glass jars to store products minimizes the use of disposable containers. Shopping at thrift stores and donating or selling your used items instead of discarding them also reduces unnecessary waste.
Going paperless saves trees and prevents deforestation. Recycling newspapers alone would save 250 million trees a year. Biking, walking, and using public transportation help reduce carbon emissions.
Other things you can do are finding new ways to use things instead of throwing them away, replacing disposable items with reusable ones, and using trash and recycled items for crafts and projects. Also, try repairing things that are broken or worn out instead of replacing them.
Why is it important to recycle?
Recycling saves energy, reduces global warming and carbon emissions, creates jobs, and helps the economy. Most of all, it keeps trash out of landfills. However, Americans recycle only 30 percent of waste and throw away about 35 billion plastic bottles a year.
Why don’t more people recycle? Though 94 percent of Americans support recycling and 74 percent say it should be a priority, most trash still ends up in landfills and incinerators. To get more people to recycle, we must make recycling easier and more accessible and educate people on its importance.
The problem of waste disposal is serious and needs to be addressed. If everyone does their part by practicing the three R’s and working to achieve a zero waste lifestyle, we could help create a better future for our planet and for generations to come.