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  • Writer's pictureJulie Rhodes

Let's talk about waste, baby

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

What does the word "waste" mean to you? Maybe it means excess. Maybe it means frivolous or unnecessary. Or maybe it just means trash - things you throw away. All these definitions are dead on and all are relevant to this blog.

Waste - in the environmental sense - is material that is discarded. According to Merriam-Webster, it is "refuse from places of human or animal habitation." Since animal waste is merely a product of their biological functions, we're leaving them out of this discussion.

We humans create a heckuva lot of waste. Here are a few stats: in 2019, the United States population was estimated to be 328 million people. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, each American generates 6 pounds of waste each day. So, 328 million people x 6 pounds = 1,968,000,000. Yup. Almost two billion pounds of waste (or 993,000 tons) every day. Every. day.

Think about that for a moment. Consider everything you "throw away" or get rid of. Food waste, whether discarded or chopped up in the disposal, styrofoam carryout containers, diapers, plastic yogurt cups, aluminum cans, junk mail, old sofas, clothes, empty toilet paper rolls, dog food bags, dolls, dollhouses, laundry detergent jugs, plastic water bottles, straws, paper towels, old shoes, bags of leaves, old tires. ALL the things.

And if you live in a municipality, then you most likely have a municipal solid waste program where your trash either gets picked up from your home or a disposal location is provided for you. Your tax dollars at work. We pay our cities, counties, parishes - whoever is responsible for garbage collection - to take care of it for us. Oftentimes, garbage collection and treatment is often one of the biggest budgetary items for local government.

Here's another couple of stats for you. High income countries (of which the U.S. is one) account for 16% of the world's population, but these same countries generate 35% of the globe's total waste. This stat really hit me in the gut! The U.S. is a throw away society. I think we all know that. We buy things we don't need or more than we need or items to be disposed of after one use. All of this adds up to 993,000 tons a day of waste that has to be collected and either recovered or placed in a landfill.

Each of us is responsible for the waste we produce. "Choose to refuse" is a popular term used by earth advocates. Each of us chooses what we buy and what we bring into our home. Refusal is always an option and can lead to less waste production. I know that I am trying to be much more conscious about this every day.

A final thought: Next time you see your sanitation workers, tell them thanks. What a nasty job they have! If you consider some of the things you have thrown in your trash bin, then you should give thanks every night for your these folks.

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