what’s in a landfill?

MPCA Photos - minnesota landfil.jpg

Last month, Zerology was a finalist for the Social Impact Pitch Competition at Ten West in Tucson, Arizona. In the weeks leading up to the competition, I did lots and lots of research into one thing that most Americans would prefer to ignore: landfills.

One statistic in particular caught my attention: as a country we are throwing a whopping 262 million tons into landfill every single year (EPA, 2015). As I did more research, I found all sorts of fascinating statistics about what exactly was in our trash and where it was coming from. But for the 5 minute pitch competition, all I could do was mention the number and move on.

Now that that’s over (and though I didn’t win, it was a great experience to continue developing Zerology!) I want to delve into that juicy statistic a little more.  

262 million tons.

That’s the equivalent of 44 million elephants.

That’s just the waste we are personally responsible for.  If we include recycling and composting (green and blue bin waste) that gets us up to 389 million tons (Biocycle 2011). And then there’s that whole other category of waste that doesn’t even make it to landfill: waste transported, extracted, flushed, emitted, and in the ocean, that number skyrockets to an estimated 10 billion (Humes 2012). 262 million tons is just what we put everyday into the black bin and leave out on our curb.

Within the 262 million tons, the top three culprits are paper, food, and plastic waste.

waste pie 2015 epa.PNG

Hoooold up just one second. Aren’t these all things that could either be composted and recycled?!

When you think about it, barely anything we throw away actually needs to be thrown away.

The rest of the trash includes metal (recyclable), glass (recyclable), wood (compostable), yard trimmings (compostable), rubber and leather (largely recyclable), textiles (largely compostable), electronic and hazardous waste, and general debris/soil.

That exact sentiment is what has kept me inspired to pursue this zero waste lifestyle even when it seems difficult. Because it’s just not normal or natural to throw things in the trash. Life on earth was meant for regeneration: when living things die they decompose, propagating new life on earth. It’s a beautiful cycle that our model of production must move towards.

The good news is that we can eliminate practically all contributors to landfill waste by refusing, reducing, reusing, recycling and composting. The bad news is we have become so dependent on our model of production that it will be a difficult cycle to break out of. But we live on a circular planet and we are meant to live a circular existence. And it is within our full control to eliminate our trash and empower ourselves through our consumption and our health.

Now that’s what I wish I could have said in the 5 minute pitch competition :).