Not sending anything to the landfill is hard. I mean, it looks hard, right? That's why I've sort of half-assed the zero waste lifestyle for the past three years. I recycle everything...unless there's no recycling bin around. I grocery shop with an eye toward creating less waste... unless I want meat, cheese, or potato chips. I carry a portable mug around with me... like, once a month. It's just that I'm busy, I have other priorities, and I run into obstacles, like the fact that I can't find one brand of green tea in my Whole Foods that doesn't come in sachets. Little stuff like that is infuriating! I know that trying to create minimal waste is a worthy goal. There are four main reasons sending things to the landfill is bad for the environment:
- It's a waste of resources. Every time something gets sent to the landfill, the resources used to make it are taken out of play and buried. Then, new resources need to be extracted and harvested to make more stuff. More oil needs to be refined into plastic, more trees need to be cut down, more bauxite needs to be mined, etc. We should strive for a cradle-to-cradle, circular flow of consumer goods and packaging that mimics the flow of water or carbon through our ecosystems.
- Landfilled items leach their toxins into the ground. Landfill liners are getting more high-tech, but as Elizabeth Royte points out in her book Garbage Land (excellent read, especially for New Yorkers but also for any American), landfills' contents persist, even after buried for thousands of years, and we don't know yet when these linings will fail. Many of them have already started failing, leaching the harmful chemicals and heavy metals into the ground and water.
- Landfills produce the potent greenhouse gas methane. Much of it comes from food and other natural waste, which instead of biodegrading into some nice compost, reacts in the anaerobic environment of landfills to produce methane. According to the EPA, "Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential more than 25 times that of carbon dioxide...Municipal solid waste landfills are the second-largest industrial source of methane emissions in the United States, accounting for 20 percent of methane emissions in 2014."
- It's stupid. OK, this one isn't scientific, but ... come on! It's it crazy how we extract oil from deep underneath the sea bed, refine it, send it to Asia to get made in to plastic pellets, which are sent somewhere else to be made into a plastic fork, which is shipped back to the US, put in our hands, and then we throw it in the trash seven minutes later! How did we get to this point?