Have you ever wondered where your waste goes once you throw it away? For those interested in having a more sustainable lifestyle with a zero-waste kitchen, knowing this information is essential. Once you understand where your trash ends up, you’ll be more conscious about the waste you create and the impact it has on the environment.
With our helpful guide below, you can learn more about the waste management industry, what happens to your garbage, and methods and technologies for reducing waste. The topics we’ll cover in detail include:
- Where does trash go?
- What happens to garbage: 5 places your trash can end up
- 4 ways to reduce trash at home so it doesn’t end up in a landfill
Before we get into ways of reducing waste at home, we should first explain where your trash might end up.
Where does trash go?
Where trash goes after its thrown away varies depending on the state or region you reside in. In most cases, however, municipal solid waste ends up in landfills. Landfills are facilities designed for waste disposal, namely for trash that can’t be otherwise removed from the waste stream to be recycled or burned.
Landfills are often the final destination of the trash you throw away, but that doesn’t mean they’re the ideal solution. There’s much more to learn about landfills and the other places your trash could end up.
What happens to garbage: 5 places your trash can end up
Your municipal solid waste can end up in several places - very few of which have a positive or neutral environmental impact. The list of 5 locations below includes everything from recycling facilities to incineration facilities, all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages.
There are over 1,250 active landfills in the US, so it should come as no surprise that the vast majority of municipal solid waste ends up there. As stated above, landfills are designed to take on waste that can’t be removed from the waste stream, like recyclable items.
That said, a landfill shouldn’t be viewed as a large compost pile. Landfills aren’t designed to aid the biological process of decomposition, as many items that end up there take hundreds to thousands of years to break down. Even food waste in landfills can have a very negative environmental impact, as it fills limited landfill space and releases methane as it rots.
2. Waste incinerators
Waste incinerators are large industrial furnaces that are used to burn municipal solid waste. The major benefit of incineration is that the process significantly reduces the original volume of the trash. This means the waste will end up taking much less landfill space in the future.
These places are sometimes referred to as waste to energy facilities or waste to energy plants, as the surplus heat released from the burning trash is sometimes used to create electricity. For this reason, many mistakenly assume that waste to energy facilities are eco-friendly. While there are some benefits to incinerators, they can also produce large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
3. Recycling or composting facilities
Ideally, a great deal of the trash you throw away will end up at a recycling or composting facility. The purpose of recycling facilities, also referred to as recycling centers, is to process recyclable materials like paper products, aluminum, and glass. Composting facilities, however, focus more so on food and agricultural waste.
When it comes to our economy and planet, the more municipal solid waste recycled the better. Studies from the environmental protection agency show that the current recycling rate has accounted for over 680,000 jobs in the US. You can contribute to the country’s rising recycling rates by learning how to recycle cardboard, paper products, glass, and other items.
4. Anaerobic digesters
Curious as to where your green bin waste goes? This organic waste is typically either sent to a composting facility, described above, or to an anaerobic digester. Anaerobic digestion is a biological process that uses microorganisms to convert organic waste into fertilizer. As the name implies, this process occurs without oxygen. This is why the waste is kept in large tanks, referred to as anaerobic digesters.
A great feature of anaerobic digestion is that it captures and uses methane rather than releasing it into the atmosphere, where it will contribute to climate change. Unfortunately, anaerobic digesters don’t come without risk. There is some low-level pollution involved in the process, along with a risk of toxic spills. This is why it’s important to learn how to compost your own waste at home where possible.
5. The ocean
Perhaps the worst place your trash could end up is in the ocean. This sadly happens more than you might think. In fact, approximately 14 million tonnes of plastic find their way into the ocean annually. This can occur from people leaving their garbage on beaches or throwing their trash directly into the water. Trash may also be blown into the ocean from landfills by the wind.
If you don’t recycle your plastics, now is the time to start. There are major consequences to this type of trash being in our oceans, including threats to food safety, human health, and marine life. There are many marine creatures that are injured or killed by getting tangled in debris. Considering what’s at stake, we should all take the time to recycle water bottles, grocery bags, and other waste.
4 ways to reduce trash at home so it doesn’t end up in a landfill
Thankfully, you can reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, incinerators, and oceans. It comes down to making more sustainable choices with the products you buy and the places you shop, along with taking advantage of food waste solutions like composting. Not sure where to start? Here are 5 simple tips for homeowners and businesses trying to reduce trash.
1. Avoid single-use cups and utensils
One of the best ways to live more sustainably is to avoid single-use cups, utensils, and water bottles. Single-use plastics can be deadly for ocean life, take up significant space in landfills, and produce toxic fumes if incinerated. Though they can be broken down eventually, items like plastic water bottles take up to 450 years to decompose.
To reduce your usage of single-use plastics, simply purchase reusable replacements. They may cost more initially, but they can save you a lot of money in the long run. Buying a reusable water bottle, for example, will cost significantly less long-term than buying a few single-use water bottles every week. You can also reduce your carbon footprint by taking any used bottles or cans you have to your local recycling center.
Why you should try this: Avoiding single-use bottles, cups, disposable utensils, straws, and other items saves space in landfills and can save you money.
2. Donate and buy second hand items
Thrift shopping is fun and eco-friendly! When you buy a used bed frame, for example, you’re lessening the demand to manufacture and transport new bed frames. Buy purchasing someone’s else's second hand item, you’re also saving it from being sent to a landfill.
In that same vein, you should donate your unwanted belongings instead of throwing them away. If you throw them out, they’ll probably end up taking space in a landfill somewhere. Why not donate your old clothes, furniture, and other belongings to a thrift store or a shelter in need of assistance?
Why you should try this: Thrift shopping is better for the environment than participating in fast fashion. You can also save big on a wide range of items from accessories to bicycles!
3. Reduce food waste with Lomi
If you want to minimize the amount of waste you create, learning how to reduce food waste is key. A very effective, reliable, and eco-friendly disposal method for food scraps is composting. That said, not everyone has the time, know-how, or backyard space for traditional composting. That’s where Lomi comes in.
Lomi is an electric composter that fits nicely on your kitchen countertop. It’s compact, quiet, and efficient. All you have to do is insert your organic food scraps, like egg shells, coffee grounds, and banana peels, into Lomi. The device will then use heat, abrasion, and oxygen to break down your food into nutrient-rich dirt you can use in your gardens.
Why you should try this: Lomi makes composting easy, especially for people living in apartments. With Lomi, you can dispose of rotting or uneaten food in an eco-friendly way while creating your own natural fertilizer.
4. Use reusable grocery bags
Like single-use bottles and utensils, single-use grocery bags can have a very negative impact on the environment. Americans use around 100 million plastic bags a year, which require several million gallons of oil to create. Once these bags end up in landfills, they take about 1,000 years to break down into toxic chemicals that can cause air, soil, and water pollution.
The good news is this problem comes with an easy solution. Purchase a few reusable grocery bags, preferably ones that are built to last using quality materials. At many grocery stores, you can actually purchase reusable bags with insulation inside to keep your cold grocery items cold and your hot items hot. If you’re worried about forgetting your bags at home, simply leave a few in your car just in case.
Why you should try this: People all across the country use and dispose of an astronomical amount of single-use bags. Using reusable bags instead is a cheap and simple solution that’s better for our planet.
Your trash could end up in a wide variety of places, from recycling centers to waste energy plants. If you want to avoid having your trash in less appealing locations, like landfills and the ocean, then it’s important to find solutions for reducing your waste at home. You can do this through a number of zero-waste kitchen products. A great example of this is the Lomi electric composter, which allows you to dispose of organic materials without concern. No matter what methods you choose, you’ll be doing your part to reduce the amount of trash taking up space in landfills, flying into the ocean, and contributing to global warming.
Written by: E Sawden