by Piter Kehoma Boll
It’s been a while since I had the idea of writing a post about the garbage problem, but it’s difficult to find the best way to start it, so let’s try to simply talk and see how it flows.
Some months ago, as part of a field activity, I visited with some colleagues and a professor some places intended to manage waste. At first we thought it would be a boring day seeing garbage everywhere, but it wasn’t boring at all. In fact it was very enlightening.
After that day, I can say for sure that we have no idea about the horror caused by our garbage. We are used to simply throw our waste in the trash bag and let the truck take it away, just as it would miraculously disappear and everything would be fine. Well… that’s not what happens.
We visited a landfill in the city of Campo Bom, which has a population of only 64 thousand people and receives about 50 tons of waste every day.
A recycling plant operates with the landfill where about 40 workers sort the garbage on a conveyor belt, but only about 4 to 6 % is recycled.
The rest is sent to the landfill where it will be buried, leading to many potential impacts to the environment, including soil and water pollution due to the leakage of contaminants, as well as by the solid residues themselves. It can also pollute the air by releasing methane from the decay of organic material and cause injuries to wildlife.
All those impacts could be greatly reduced if most of the waste material could be reused. So we may ask why so little of it is recycled. Well, in part it is our own fault because we don’t care so much about the way we discard our waste.
Most people simply throw everything together. Organic and inorganic waste are not set apart and, even when people separate fruit peels from plastic, they still mix a dirty plastic container with remains of yogurt with paper and other stuff, causing the organic remains to flow over other clean materials and many times causing them to become unfeasible to recycle.
Recycling, however, faces many other challenges. Many materials are not designed to be recycled, so the most common forms of “recycling” don’t include the reuse of the material for the same purpose, but rather to another. For example, most white paper is recycled to become paperboard and not new white paper. It does, of course, reduce the amount of raw material necessary, but not always targeting the most critical points.
That’s why recycling is connected to the other 2 Rs in the 3R concept: reduce, reuse, recycle. We should try to use less resources and buy less things (reduce), but once we acquired something, we must try to use it as many times as possible (reuse) and, after not being able to go on using it, we got to find a purpose other than throwing it away (recycling).
I’m telling all this stuff and you are probably thinking that you hear that all the time. Yeah, maybe, but I wish everybody visited a landfill someday to see with their own eyes the tragedy that we are causing to our planet due to our unbridled consumption of resources.
To finish, I would like to share an interesting graph that was presented to me by Meika Jensen from MastersDegree.net. It deals with the problem of ocean pollution, something directly related to waste management. Take a look: