garbage | Landfill | reduce waste

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. 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 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 and wheel it to the curb?  What happens after the trash man dumps it into the truck and hangs precariously on to the outside of the truck while it goes speeding around the corner?  By the way, this 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.  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 aren’t in your recycling bins 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 – 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 collected and can actually be used as an energy source.  However, while methane gas has it’s good side, it is also a very potent greenhouse gas that contributes to warming temperatures (a.k.a. climate change).

It’s important to note that landfills are no longer open pits of garbage.  They are now heavily regulated and are safer for nearby communities.

It’s really all of the stuff in the landfill that is the issue.  Much of what ends up in a landfill represents a loss to the environment and the economy since much of it could have been recycled or reused instead.

Take paper as an example – up to 50% of what’s in a landfill is paper that could  have been recycled instead.  If that paper had been recycled the resoures used to create them – trees and water – could have been conserved.  The recycled paper could have been used to make more paper instead of cutting down trees to do it.

Sharing with Your Kids

I get it, talking about trash is probably not a topic your kids are going to be super interested in.  In fact, you may not even be that interested in it!  🙂  However, I’m guessing since you’ve gotten this far into the post that you are at least slightly intrigued!

One good resource for providing some info is this video.  It gives a good overview of the basics of a landfill and how it works. I can’t guarantee you won’t get eye rolliing and moans about watching something educational.  When I did finally share it with my kids they at least paid attention and I’m guessing something sank in!

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

Now It’s Your Turn!

Hopefully this provides you with a little bit of info you can share with your kids about 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!