I was watching the Today Show on NBC the other day, when I was struck with an unfathomable statistic in my face. America produces 250 million tons of trash a year—that’s 500 billion pounds of trash!
Initially, I just didn’t understand the significance of such a huge number being thrown like they often do on the news. Then I got to thinking about the moral of the story and wondered if the point of the story was to showcase how much Americans waste. If so, well, then there was no surprise.
But why should such statistic be something that represents our country? And what are the consequences of such a simple act of throwing away stuff?
Ever since I can remember, I was told that throwing away trash at home, school, in public and anywhere you can think of was an act of public good. But now, while it is still very important to clean up the mess you made, it seems like the million dollar question is, how can we reduce our waste?
I went and did some reach to get to the bottom of this. See what I was able to dig up.
Here is a general breakdown of where our municipal solid waste MSW (or just trash) comes from:
(the graph above was taken from the Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States publication released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency)
Most of us probably don’t even think twice about trash and where it goes. It actually ends up in 3,091 active landfills and over 10,000 old municipal landfills across our nation. Our trash sits in these landfills to be decomposed. But, please don’t be fooled by the term decompose. Most containers we throw out take hundreds of years to decompose and we all know that is not in the ballpark of my or your lifetime.
According to another source, landfills are typically located close to large bodies of water and they leak leachate and toxins into our fresh sources of water. As a result, it impacts the lives of those living nearby these landfills and the bodies of water that our toxins are dumped into.
I recently learned that the Laotian community in Contra Costa County in California resides in one of the most toxic regions of our nation through the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). The growing Laotian community in this specific region in the 70s was a result of the Vietnam War. As refugees, they had little voice over their well-being and public affairs that impacted their lives. Thus the APEN was established to help fight for pollution reduction, green development, public health and other environmental causes.
Another example is Hawai’i, a state with a high population of Asian Americans at 38%. Hawai’i is not only a hot destination for those who seek paradise, but it has become one of the biggest attractions for our waste. This, in turn, impacts the nature of our own paradise as well as those who reside there. Click here to watch a brief video of how and what reaches the shores of Hawai’i.
I hope you get the point I’m trying to make. Our environment does matter to us. It matters more for those who have little voice in our political process. It impacts the marginalized and voiceless populations in our country
I know it’s difficult to take in so many social injustices, as they are constantly being thrown at us like mere numbers. But, there is hope and there is a way for you and I to become that hope.
Try some of these tactics and spread the word to your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors! Change starts small. Let’s start today.– Be smart about transportation! Use public transit, carpool, ride a bike or walk! – Buy less. Make a list of things you absolutely need before going to a store. – Take shorter showers. – Use BPA (Bisphenol-A) Free bottles & reuse. – Unplug your electronics before going to bed or work.
– Look for products that are toxin free + environmental friendly.