The average American throws away enough plastic forks, spoons and cups every year to circle the globe 300 times, according to Earth911. The vast amount of this garbage ends up in increasingly populated landfills. Out of sight, out of mind. While that sounds like a staggering amount, consumer waste accounts for a small portion of the total landfill volume.
Commercial landfill use surpasses consumer waste by the volume of material dumped in landfills. Rubber, polystyrene and plastics take centuries to millennia to decompose. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2003, 290 million rubber tires were tossed into landfills. In 2004, the Rubber Manufacturers Association estimated that another 275 million tires were located in stockpiles, waiting to be recycled or thrown into landfills.
There is no end to landfill use unless the amount of waste decreases, several industries are making headway to reduce the volume of waste they create. They are also devising creative ways to reuse and recycle products that were once destined for the landfill.
The Tire Problem
Tires last forever, which is a relief to the consumer when they are on the car — treads notwithstanding. But when in the landfill, a long life is not desirable. Rubber seldom breaks down unless it’s chemically decomposed or burned. Tire manufacturer Kumho is using silica-based compounds in its tires which keeps them out of the landfill longer. Michelin, Bridgestone and Kumho tires from Tire Buyer all offer eco-friendly products. TireBuyer reminds us that most states charge a tire disposal fee when you buy tires. The fees range from 25 cents to $5.00 depending on the tire type and size. The states use these fees to manage the tire stockpiles and to develop other uses for the tires. Tires can be reconstituted into playground surfaces, road surfaces and mulch. Fuel has even been extracted from used tires.
Photo of shredded tire mounds by Shuki via Wikimedia Commons
The Computer Problem
Where do all of the old computers go? Most have ended up in landfills as the computer became a commodity item in the home. When it broke, you threw it away and bought a new one. Dell has piloted several programs to help recycle old computers and supplies.
Dell Reconnect allows you to give your old equipment to participating Goodwill locations to be refurbished. Their Asset Resale and Recycling program wipes the data from business computers and either recycles them or helps you resell the devices to other businesses. Printer cartridges can be dropped off at Staples for Dell to collect and recycle. The National Cristina Foundation helps you to donate your old technology to schools and nonprofit locations through Dell.
Photo of computer monitor and TV recycling pen by David Wright via Wikimedia Commons
The Plastic Problem
Thirty-one million tons of plastic were thrown out in 2010, the EPA reported. Plastic can be set out for curbside recycling in many cities. The recycled plastic materials are sorted, then ground up into tiny flakes. The flakes are compressed into pellets which are sent to manufacturers for reuse.
Another type of plastic exists that manages to be more problematic than traditional plastic. Once praised for its miraculous buoyancy and insulating properties, Styrofoam — a trademark of Dow Chemical Company — and its predecessor, polystyrene, are now enormous burdens in landfills. The materials takes hundreds of years to decompose. Green Living Tips mentions a few ways to reuse polystyrene including using it as packing material, in craft projects or in planters. You may also find a local polystyrene manufacturer that will take in your materials to recycle. Regardless, plastic is being recognized now as a huge environmental issue and the processes for recycling plastic are changing, but there’s still a lot of work to do to resolve this. What better time to start than the present?
Photo of crushed plastic bottle bales in the Czech Republic by Michal MaÅˆas via Wikimedia Commons