When your parents ask you to take out the garbage, do you wonder where it goes after it's picked up on trash day? In some communities, it's taken to a waste-to-energy facility, which burns the materials and produces electricity. This carefully supervised method of dealing with solid waste uses air pollution controls to safeguard human health and the environment.
In some areas, such as York County, Pennsylvania, the resulting ash is recycled into a material that is used in the construction industry. Waste-to-energy facilities save acres of valuable land, and they preserve fossil fuel by producing energy out of garbage.
However, in most of the United States, trash and garbage are taken to a place called a landfill. Located outside of the city, the workers dump the refuse into a large pit in the ground. In many places, it's delivered to a municipal solid waste landfill where a special plastic liner is used to protect the underlying groundwater from the trash. At the end of the day, the solid waste is covered with soil, protecting it from the air and rain, and keeping it from decomposing and polluting the surrounding area. Burying it also discourages birds and other animals from picking through and scattering the trash.
Have you thought about what happens to garbage once it's buried? Since solid waste needs oxygen and moisture in order to break down, materials that are buried in a landfill will not decompose very soon. As a matter of fact, when workers dig up old landfills, they often find magazines and newspapers that are still readable!
In this country, people at the United States Environmental Protection Agency, state departments of environmental management, and county solid waste management authorities look after landfills to make sure that the workers who run them are following guidelines to keep such facilities safe and clean.
The EPA and lawmakers make the rules and regulations that decide where landfills can be built. Once a facility is in operation, it must be carefully supervised to make sure that the environment is protected. In the United States, the city or county government takes care of hauling trash and siting landfills. Before a landfill can be built, there are many months, perhaps years, of study necessary.
After the study is completed, the city or county government applies for permits that will allow the landfill to be built. Money must be raised to buy the land, which can be several hundred acres, and to pay people to work at the landfill. This usually comes from taxes or some other public source. Construction on the landfill can begin once the permits are granted and the money is raised to build the facility.
In talking about trash disposal, some people say "we're running out of out." What they mean is that we're running out of places to bury trash. Nearly half of all U.S. landfills are full or they have been closed because of groundwater contamination. It's hard to site new solid waste facilities, because most people don't want to live near landfills, and there's only so much land left for green spaces, building homes, and growing crops. So the more land we use for landfills, the less we have for these purposes.
Nevertheless, landfills are a necessary part of life, and they most likely will be with us for a long time. If we learn to rethink, reduce, reuse, and recycle, however, we can extend their lives, and save money, energy, precious land, and other natural resources. To find out more about landfills visit How Landfills Work.
Now that you know something about landfills, doesn't it seem foolish to bury solid waste that can be recycled and made into new products? In addition to saving time, money, natural resources, and landfill space, recycling is more efficient than making things from new or virgin materials. Go to Trash a Pizza! to learn how to create a visual aid or model that shows the different types of materials that are buried in landfills.
Thanks to the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District for providing the landfill images.
Recycling is one way to minimize or lessen the amount of trash we have to throw away. When we recycle, we make a new product out of waste materials. This process helps save natural resources like trees as well as landfill space and the money needed to get rid of trash.
Most people think trash is a problem, but many artists and teachers see it as a source of free art materials. Using solid waste to make art is recycling. This helps save the environment, and making something from nothing is fun! The materials we use at The Imagination Factory are common household trash or other easy to obtain solid waste.
Preconsumer waste is material, such as paper trimmings, left over at factories and businesses. The waste paper is sent to a recycler who makes it into a new paper product, and then it goes to the consumer or person who will use the product.
Postconsumer waste is trash that results after the consumer has used a product. For example, when you drink a soda from an aluminum container, the can is the trash. If you take the container to a recycling center, however, it can be sent to a recycler who makes it into a new aluminum product.
First of all, you should rethink. For example, do you really need to purchase something new like a jacket? Perhaps your old one is still in good shape and will do for another season.
Another way is to reduce. When you buy something small, such as a pack of gum or candy, tell the clerk you don't need a sack for your purchase. Just be sure to ask for your receipt.
Learn to reuse. For example, instead of throwing away margarine tubs with lids, reuse them to store things like paper clips and other small items.
In trying to save natural resources and landfill space, the order of
preference in managing solid waste is as follows: rethink, reduce, reuse, and
How We Use the Word "Recycle" at The Imagination Factory
True recycling is using a process such as grinding, chopping, shredding or melting solid waste materials in order to get them ready to manufacture a new product. Making paper, in which postconsumer waste such as newspapers and magazines are torn into small pieces and then reformed into new sheets, is recycling.
While there may be some projects at The Imagination Factory that show visitors how to recycle in the truest sense, nearly all activities encourage reuse. Since new products result from the ways we work with materials, however, we use the term "recycled" in referring to them.
Some may question the value of making recycled art and crafts, saying that they will eventually end up in a landfill anyway. But in time, almost everything we own will be thrown away. Recycling solid waste to make art helps teachers and others save money, and it conserves the natural resources that would be used to make new art supplies.
Saving landfill space and natural resources will require major changes in our habits and what we think about the quality of recycled goods. Some adults may catch on to recycling, but kids are the ones who can change attitudes and make a difference in saving the environment. We hope that the material presented at The Imagination Factory will help to increase environmental awareness and encourage everyone to recycle.
©1996-2008 Marilyn J. Brackney, All Rights Reserved
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