Where Does Our Garbage Go?

Watch the video below to find out where your garbage goes after you throw it out. This video article was created by an automated system that combines related video clips and then uses AI to read the text of the article out loud.


Where Does Our Garbage Go?
2.7 trillion pounds – that is how much garbage is produced every year. That’s as much as in weight as roughly 7,000 Empire State buildings. However, while we can spot trash everywhere where there is a sign of human activity, it is nearly as much as one would think given the insane amount of it that we produce annually. So, the question arises – where does all our garbage go? In this article, we’ll attempt to explain what happens to all our thrown away trash.

Breaking it Down
Here’s a pop quiz – what’s the biggest category of solid waste we produce every year? The answer isn’t plastic, which only accounts for some 10% of the total. The biggest proportion of our wastage (46%) is made up of organic material – that comprises of the spoiled or unspoiled food we didn’t eat. The second-biggest category of waste is paper, amounting to around 17%. However, due to the increasing digitalization of publications and work documents, paper now accounts for less and less of the global trash volume.

The Journey – From Your Doorstep to The Final Stop
Once you leave the garbage at your doorstep, it will be taken by your local garbage collector to the landfill, where some of the recyclable material will be sorted out and shipped to recycling local facilities or ones abroad. A few years ago, much of the world’s recyclable trash used to be sent to China for processing. Roughly 70% of all recyclable plastic was imported into the country.

However, with tougher restrictions in place now on what type of wastes can be imported, much of the recyclable waste today is being sent to other countries that do not have the facilities to process it. As a result, more and more of the world’s waste is ending up being dumped in landfills or getting dumped into the ocean.

Moving back home, as for the non-recyclable solid waste in our landfills, they are simply compressed and plowed over to make room for more garbage. In some landfills, methane produced from the decomposing garbage is collected and used in gas power plants to generate electricity.

Some of the solid garbage may also be sent for burning in waste-to-energy plants. These facilities differ from trash incinerators that were the norm a few decades ago. Unlike their older counterparts, these more modern plants remove hazardous or recycle material before burning the rest. The gases are filtered for any hazardous compounds before being released into the atmosphere. The residue ash and metal left after the burning are sold to manufactories for use as raw materials for many of their products.

However, because of the cost associated with the building of such facilities (a typical plant costs 440 million dollars annually to build), only a few rich jurisdictions are able to process garbage this way. This includes countries like Sweden and U.S states like California.

Now coming back to the landfill, some of the organic trash left behind may be sorted out and composted. The composted trash will naturally decay over time to become a highly nutrient soil for use as fertilizer.

The Trend
Within the U.S, an increasingly larger percentage of trash is getting recycled. In terms of tonnage, the total volume of garbage that remained left in the landfill peaked in the year 1990 and since then have been on a long-term gradual decline. A similar trend is also apparent in many other OECD countries.

The Bigger, Gloomier Bigger
While unrecycled trash is on a slow decline in many of the rich countries, it is important to remember that a large portion of it is the result of some of the trash being sent over to developing countries. As mentioned, these countries lacking the proper facilities to process it as well as increasing their own trash production as a result of the growth in the economy means that on a net global scale, solid waste pollution is growing, putting both lives and wildlife in danger.

In addition, despite improvements in technology, investment in waste power plants has essentially ceased in many parts of the world. Within the United States, only one such facility came online since 1995.

Likely the picture for the near future is a gloomy one, with more and more of the world’s growing solid waste simply being dumped in open landfills or ending up floating in the world’s ocean.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Country Produces the Most Trash?
The answer to this isn’t going to surprise anyone perhaps. The United States holds the unenviable position as the country that produces the most trash of any country. Per capita wise, an average American will produce 2.6 lbs. of garbage in a single day, that equals to their own body weight being produced every month.

Which Country Produces the Most Trash Per Person?
Taken per capita wise, the picture becomes entirely different with the average American nowhere close to the top ten waste producers. The country with the most wasteful people is Kuwait, where the average person produces a staggering 12.6 lbs. of trash every single day!

How Long Does It Take for Trash to Break Down?
Trash is composed of many different materials which all decompose at different rates. Organic food items can break down in weeks to months while packaging like milk cartons can take years. Batteries and other electrical equipment can take over a century to break down. While materials such as plastic will take multiple centuries to fully decompose.

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