What Happens With Our Junk?
For many years, large cities like Boston, MA have had no options for disposing of the vast majority of it`s garbage other than piling it all in massive mountains that will be monuments to our society`s throw away mentality for generations to come. Our great great great grandchildren will likely be able to visit these sites, and in many cases be able to view them in much the same way they stand today. This is because much of what we have been throwing away for generations is so slow to decompose, and in some cases really doesn’t decompose at all.
How long does it take?
Most of us never think about it, but sometimes it is very sobering to find out how long materials take to decompose. That extra plywood from that project you are doing will take 1-3 years to break down in a landfill. The dimensional lumber even longer at 10-15 years. Wool clothing thrown away can take up to 5 years to break down. Those are some of the best case scenarios, as clothing items made out of nylon fabrics can take 30-40 years to break down.
Throwing out a few AA batteries that have run out of power? You may be able to find them sitting there 100 years from now. Even aluminum pop cans that can be recycled are thrown in the garbage far to often, and take 200-250 years to break down. Plastic bags from the grocery store may have a total time of use of a couple of hours, but will sit in a landfill for up to a thousand years! Then there is the real nightmare of Styrofoam, which has been shown to have a zero rate of breakdown.
This is a global problem, and thankfully many individuals are making efforts in the areas of innovation, reuse and reduction in order to stem this problem before it becomes an irreversible nightmare. We are fortunate to live in a City who is on the forefront of many innovative projects however more can still be done on our part.
How to know what’s what?
There are three primary means which can cause most materials to break down. In order for them to break down, they must be either Degradable, Biodegradable, or Compostable.
- Degradable would mean that the material will undergo a process of deterioration or breaking up by the action of natural forces, or by the addition of certain chemicals.
- Biodegradable materials are made of a substance capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms.
- Compostable material would be entirely organic material that would break down entirely into carbon dioxide, water and biomass at the same rate as paper.
What are some ways YOU can reduce your environmental impact?
We have a few simple suggestions! Try switching to rechargeable batteries, although they may be more expensive up front, over the long run you will probably save money and avoid throwing out old batteries that can never be used again. Take your own reusable bags to the grocery store, and help avoid the use of plastic bags that will sit at landfill for generations. Try not to use Styrofoam for packing, but instead reuse old news paper to cushion breakable items. Avoid Styrofoam plates and cups at all costs, and instead use recycled paper products for a disposable option, or even better just use dishes that can be washed.
Take your old aluminum cans and glass bottles to the recycling depot, or donate to a local bottle drive or to a local non-profit to be recycled rather than throwing them in the garbage. Don’t throw out your old clothing, but donate it to a local charity to be reused. If the clothes are too old or damaged to be donated, tear them in to rags to be used over and over around the house or garage.
Believe it or not, the single most common waste item going to landfill is food waste. Make sure to purchase only as much as you think you and your family will be able to eat. If you have spoiled food, instead of throwing it in the garbage, start your own composting bin. Even grass clippings and other organics from around the yard can be added to the compost bin and help reduce the volume going to landfill.
Small changes can make a big difference and those changes start with us. Lets all do our part!