In order to reduce, reuse, and recycle, and do our part to create a more healthy and resilient Jersey City, it is helpful to understand why it is so important, and how we can reduce our waste locally. The average American creates about 4.4 lbs. of trash every day, which adds up to 1606 pounds per person a year. Approximately 30% of that trash is single-use disposable items, and recycling alone won’t fix the problem. A recent report from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation estimates that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 if we do not significantly reduce our consumption of disposable plastics.
Trashing our Waste is an Outdated Technology. When we throw away items into the trash, they are collected and then transferred to a landfill. While there are some encouraging pilot projects, like microbes that munch on garbage, essentially landfill technology and the practice of burying trash has not fundamentally changed for thousands of years. But the trash we throw in them has changed dramatically.
What are We Leaving Behind?
Much of the trash we bury does not decompose quickly, if at all, so we are leaving our trash behind for future generations to have to deal with. How long will it be here….5 years, 200 years, or 100,000 years?
Check out these decomposition rates for everyday materials, and maps of the thousands of landfills in the United States.
Most single-use items are never recycled — such as single-use coffee cups, plastic straws, or plastic bags. In fact, most of our residential waste can be prevented, recycled, composted, repurposed, or repaired, so that approximately 90% can be diverted from landfills, a goal referred to as “zero waste.”
Trash is both a waste issue, as well as an energy and greenhouse gas issue. Energy and raw materials are used to manufacture, store and transport products — so when we use something only once, we are wasting a lot of energy. Plastic is made from petroleum and natural gas, which are fossil fuels. When trash is disposed of, it decomposes, and releases methane, carbon dioxide and toxins into the air, soil, and water.
Why are we creating so much waste now?
Jonathan Chapman, Professor of Sustainable Design, highlights a relatively new phenomenon: that it is culturally acceptable to design almost any object to be disposable. We must rethink how we design — and begin again to design objects we love that will last. Since the waste disposal, recycling and other clean up costs in the United States are rarely paid by the manufacturer, but rather the taxpayer, we have seen the number of single-use disposables increase dramatically over the last two decades. Because most American cities charge a flat fee for waste disposal, and trash is taken “away” from their homes, most Americans are oblivious to the amount of waste they generate.
Fixing the Waste Problem
The easiest way to reduce waste is to not create it to begin with — and to support the design, manufacturing and consumption of zero waste goods and services, and avoid single use disposable ones. Zero waste doesn’t necessarily mean you create absolutely no waste or garbage, but rather that 90% of the materials that you discard are not sent to landfills, but instead recycled, reused, repurposed or composted. Designing with zero waste in mind is a key component of the circular economy.
How do you begin the goal of having zero waste? Learn more about how to recycle in Jersey City, reducing food waste, composting, reducing single use plastic disposables and the Jersey City plastic bag ban in the below links.