No one wants to think about where their trash goes. Unless you’re a sanitation worker, you can put your garbage outside and forget about it. However, learning about recycling and waste removal will equip you to make better daily choices about what you purchase and throw away.
Waste is defined as an item people don’t want anymore. These items can range from glass bottles to plastic straws, old hair dye bottles and also dirty diapers. Learn more about how recycling and waste removal work and your role in the process.
Where Does Trash Go?
Many cities ask residents to put recycling and trash in different bins. They have separate trucks pick up these contents and run them to sorting centers located in or nearby their city. People and machines sort this recycling into glass, plastic, aluminum, and other categories.
Items that can’t be recycled are packed into trucks and sent to join the trash at landfills or processing centers. According to the environmental protection agency, there were 2,632 landfills across America in 2022. Some trash also goes to incineration centers where the materials are burned to create energy.
Most waste management businesses are owned and operated by private companies rather than the government. Although waste management is profitable, it takes a sizable investment to get started. Companies must follow strict environmental procedures and continue checking the safety of their sites for years after their use.
Environmental Impact of Waste
Many modern items aren’t designed to last. Styrofoam containers, plastic straws, and synthetic fibers don’t break down naturally and do damage to the environment. In contrast, natural materials like wood and stone enrich their environments when they break down.
Because modern consumers don’t interact with their trash, many of them think about its use instead of its final destination. For example, people have thrown away or recycled over 6,300 million metric tons of plastic since the 1950s. Most of these people were thinking about convenience, daily life, and personal finances when they used plastic – not wondering where it would finally end up.
Both landfills and trash incineration have a negative impact on the environment. Landfill cells are insulated with layers of clay and plastic to prevent toxic chemicals from leaching out. Some materials decompose quickly, while others can take hundreds of years to fully break down. During this time, decomposing materials produce methane gas and toxic liquid.
For a while, environmentalists were hopeful that incinerating trash might be a better option. However, incineration pollutes the air with toxic particles. Although companies filter this air, they can’t fully purify it. Incineration also results in toxic ash that we must bury and then monitor in landfills.
What You Can Do
The best option for waste management today is to change consumer habits. Instead of buying plastic, choose natural materials that will break down over time. Items that last for a long time are kinder to the environment, especially if we can extend their life through reuse or recycling.
Here are some things you can do to improve your relationship with waste:
Compost leftover vegetables and fruits.
Switch take-out containers for reusable boxes.
Use a refillable coffee cup and straw.
Recycle as much as you can where you live.
Shop thrift stores for clothes and choose natural fibers.
Although you don’t usually see your trash again after sanitation workers pick up your bin, you’re an important part of waste management. Use these steps to be more mindful of the materials you use and where they go when you’re done with them.
Every Choice Counts
Many items don’t break down the way natural materials do. This means we must contain trash to ensure it doesn’t contaminate the environment. Although we recycle some items, we still send a lot to landfills or incinerate them. Neither one of these options is ideal for environmental or human health.
You can play a role in waste management by thinking about where your items will end up after you use them. Choose materials that break down naturally and recycle as many things as you can. Shop for thrifted items and find ways to reduce your waste. Your choices are important for the future of waste management.
Jane is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co and an environmental writer covering green technology, sustainability and environmental news.