Now that my kids are a little older I’m realizing that, “because I said so,” doesn’t really cut it anymore as a good excuse for why they should or shouldn’t do something.  Actually, who am I kidding, it never really worked!  Anyway, I’m changing my approach and am now arming myself with real information I can share to provide concrete facts…to accompany my nagging.  🙂

Today’s lecture (I mean, valuable discussion) is a big picture answer to why it’s important for my kids to have to stick their hand in the dirty trash can to retrieve the banana peel they threw in there to put in the compost bin instead.  I hope by widening their view of the world (and yours!) it will help them realize how their actions, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can and do affect the world around them – a valuable lesson for them in so many ways.

So Where Does My Trash Go?

What happens to it after we throw it in the trash can, wheel it to the curb and watch as the trash man (is waste management worker more p.c.?) dumps it into the truck and then hangs precariously on to the outside of the truck while it goes speeding around the corner?  This by the way has caused my son more than once to exclaim that he wants to be a trash man when he grows up so he can ride on the truck like that.

Just as a point of reference (and to throw some statistics at you!) Americans generate an amazing 4.6 pounds of trash per person per day which adds up to an incredible 251 million tons of trash per year!  This is almost twice as much as most countries!  (source: EPA) It’s almost too much to even imagine!  To bring it closer to home read my post, “How Much Garbage Do We Produce,” to learn how to discover how much trash your family produces each week.

There is some good news – about 87 million tons (or 34.5%) of this trash is recycled but the bad news is that this still leaves A LOT of trash that is headed for a landfill.

What Goes On At A Landfill?

In most cases the trash truck (with the trash man now safely seated inside the vehicle) arrives at a waste management facility.  Any items that can’t be recycled and that aren’t hazardous materials will continue on to the landfill.

A modern US landfill is basically a large hole in the ground lined with a layer of clay and plastic to keep leachate (a toxic liquid formed from decomposing trash that contains small bits of solid and liquid garbage – yuck!) from seeping into the ground or groundwater.  The leachate is collected through drains at the bottom of the lined hole and sent off to be treated. The landfill is filled in with garbage in small sections and covered over daily with soil to minimize  pests, odors and blowing garbage – again yuck! Another byproduct  of a landfill is methane gas (also produced by decomposing garbage) which is also collected and can actually be used as an  energy source.

Here is a good video to watch with your kids to get a good overview of how a landfill works.  You’re going to have to catch ’em on a good day though when they are least likely to give you a hard time about taking 3 minutes out of their day!

I also got a great book called, “Where Does the Garbage Go?” which does a great job of explaining in a fairly entertaining way what happens to garbage once it leaves your house.  And although my 11 year-old daughter laughed at me for ordering it and rolled her eyes – she read the entire book!  Ha!

Now It’s Your Turn!

In any case, hopefully this provides you with a little bit of knowledge you can share with your kids when it comes to your trash, where it goes and why it’s important to make less of it. Maybe it sparks something in them or clicks with them in some small way and they begin to think ever so slightly differently about the world around them and how they can affect it.  You never know unless you try!



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