Bash Your Trash

(Photo by United Nations Photo / Flickr)

Sweden has a trash supply problem, of the kind we can only envy. Not a land of dumpers, Sweden turns its trash into power. As reported recently in National Geographic, their approach using high-power incinerators is so successful that the demand for energy is now outstripping trash supply. To fill the gap, the country, which banned landfill in 2002, is importing garbage from neighboring Norway.

Things look a little different here in Massachusetts. For starters, we produce more trash (as of 2011: US 4.4 lbs/person/day; Sweden 2.8 lbs/person/day). Out of the total 8 million tons of waste that we generate yearly in MA alone, one third is composted or recycled. The rest, enough to fill 74 Fenway Parks to the brim, is burned in municipal waste combustors, buried in lined landfills, or transported to out-of-state disposal facilities. There are 7 waste-to-energy incinerators in Massachusetts, and they take on about 3.3 million tons of garbage per year.

Currently, about 2.4 million tons of trash per year are dumped in Massachusetts’ 23 active landfills. The state also has a grand total of 894 inactive and closed landfills and dumping grounds, hundreds of which are still ‘incomplete’ (matter is still decomposing) and ‘uncapped’ (not sealed off).

Landfills, and even more so simple dumps, are problematic for various reasons. For example, waste of land, and contamination of drinking water as well as other environmental problems if there is leaching. Landfills also give off methane, a powerful ‘greenhouse gas’. And, they are a large cost for the taxpayer wallet.

But things are looking brighter for the future. Massachusetts has decided to implement a ‘path to zero waste‘. Among its goals are to reduce solid waste disposal by 30% until 2020 (80% by 2050), continue to divert toxic substances from the solid waste stream and ultimately eliminate them, maximize recycling and composting, stimulate greater reuse of materials, encourage innovative and alternative technologies for solid waste combustion and conversion of trash to energy or fuel, and to create new ‘green’ jobs.

Trash is not so much a problem of a state or a country: it my problem, your problem, our problem. And our chance as well.

We must act now, and every day.

Here are a few easy things we can do to be more responsible about trash and reduce it:

  • Pay attention to packaging: buy things with minimal packaging, and go for the recyclable/reusable kind
  • Compost
  • Recycle what can be recycled, and do it properly
  • Reuse whatever possible
  • Repurpose whatever possible

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