The human-induced waste problem is rapidly becoming one of the most pressing global issues. And the global sustainability issue gripping the planet has been thrown into sharp focus recently, due to several shocking facts and figures that have come to light.
While the impacts of plastic pollution in our oceans often attract the lion’s share of attention, it is important to also consider that a vast majority of trash is disposed of on land, often in poor and developing countries. This has led to serious public health concerns and exacerbated other social injustices.
For instance, research has shown how the mismanagement of plastic waste can lead to displacement due to economic disparities while also increasing crime rates and causing extreme environmental damage. Fundamentally, these repercussions arise from the ‘out of sight out of mind’ mindset so pervasive about global waste management policies.
Unless we can rethink our relationship with trash, the collective outcome could be catastrophic, both for our environment and for all global citizens affected by this crisis. Here are some of the shocking waste facts gripping the planet right now that many people are not even aware of:
The Landfill Is Such a Major Issue in Indonesia It Is Forcing People From Their Homes
Bantar Gebang, a landfill of monumental proportions in Indonesia, continues to disrupt the surrounding villages that are located close by. It is estimated that at least 20,000 residents live nearby the trash mountain and many of them lead difficult lives with little money to their name as they make a living from scavenging through the waste.
The government has pushed for further expansion of the landfill, causing even more displacement and disruption for existing villagers. Fortunately, Resa Boenard has taken action through founding Seeds of Bantar Gebang (BGBJ): an educational community resource created to support families and children affected by the landfill’s impact.
BGBJ gives hope to these communities at risk of displacement and raises important environmental questions regarding how we can limit this kind of ecological damage in future generations.
We Are Wasting Food on a Massive Scale
The scale of food waste is staggering; current figures indicate that around one-third of all food produced worldwide is squandered through losses at every stage within the production experience, i.e. retail level and consumer level.
This process is especially salient in developed economies, where an overwhelming 40% of losses occur at the consumer level alone – an egregious amount when compared to total food production in sub-Saharan Africa.
Put differently, North Americans are currently permissively discarding enough edibles to theoretically cover the totals from 46 other countries. Despite the environmental benefits of composting, the vast majority of food that is wasted ends up in landfills.
In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 6.5% of the food waste we generate is composted. The remainder is sent through our already overwhelmed system of landfills, causing an inefficient cycle of wasted resources due to improper disposal.
A closer look at our landfilled trash reveals that it is composed of at least 35% organic matter, ranging from food to yard trimmings and various paper products. This is a troubling statistic given the impacts these materials have when left in landfills; they produce methane gas and contribute to air pollution, while also costing taxpayers millions due to increased maintenance expenses.
Given this, there is real potential to significantly reduce our amount of landfill waste by increasing composting practices. Through active programs that encompass all forms of organic waste, we can begin to make meaningful headway in reducing greenhouse gases and their associated costs.
Thus, the widespread adoption of composting programs has the potential to meaningfully reduce the amount of landfill waste we currently experience.
Textile Waste Continues to Be a Huge Problem
The staggering figures concerning the generation of textile waste each year are a major global issue for both environmental and economic well-being. Recent reports suggest that around 92 million metric tons of textile waste are generated every year, contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions with the fashion sector alone responsible for 1.2 billion of these metric tons.
According to the most recent report, Australians are buying an alarming amount of clothing per year – 14.8kg, equating to 56 new items each. The findings, while concerning, are unsurprising due to Australia’s place as one of the world’s highest consumers of textiles per capita.
Such exorbitant amounts of spending on clothes are having a devastating effect on our environment; with most of these garments finding their way into landfills. In the United States, 85% of all textiles end up discarded in trash resulting in 12.8 million tons every year – a figure which could be drastically reduced through better consumer choices, donations and innovations in material technologies.
Last month’s photos of Chile’s Atacama desert illuminated the stark reality of our dependence on fast fashion leading to hazardous amounts of waste being generated annually and it is now more important than ever to recognise the importance of tackling this problem head-on before it is too late.
We Have a Historic Plastic Problem That Remains Unaddressed
Statistics show that only 9% of all plastic created since the 1950s has been recycled.
This revelation raises an important question: why has recycling not been widely supported, and why are its positive effects not more visible?
The answer lies in how recycling is promoted by certain businesses whose sole purpose is to appear more environmentally conscious without implementing any meaningful change.
Many of these companies have opted for greenwashing their delivery mechanisms rather than investing in viable solutions.
Greenwashing is a deceptive form of marketing whereby companies attempt to rebrand themselves as environmentally friendly to gain public approval and financial support, despite having poor environmental records. Thus, the responsibility falls on us – individuals, nonprofits and governments alike – to demand more from corporations when it comes to responsibly dispose of plastic waste.
We Have Lost Around Half of Our Coral Reefs
It is an alarming statistic that half of the world’s coral reefs have been wiped out in just the last three decades. This is due to a rapid rise in ocean temperatures; coral is unable to acclimate to such abrupt changes and their demise has prompted considerable alarm over the worrying rate at which our climate crisis is escalating.
If urgent action isn’t taken, reports predict that by 2050, an estimated 90% of coral reef ecosystems will have perished. To gain insight into how this devastating process occurs, Chasing Coral, a documentary released in 2017, offers poignant testimony to this rapidly deteriorating state of affairs and serves as a warning for future generations.
Landfills Are Leaching a Deadly Poison
Landfills are becoming a growing concern as they have the potential to cause immense damage to the environment and human health due to the production of leachate. Leachate consists of hazardous waste, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds which are all toxic pollutants that can contaminate wells and other water sources if released into the environment.
Although landfills are now designed with more efficient safety measures, incidents still occur where the leachate manages to escape beyond its walls. In 2011, a landfill in San Jose was fined $800,000 when previously undisclosed leachate was discovered leaking into a local stream – this case explains how detrimental leaching is when it isn’t managed properly over time.
In conclusion, the global sustainability issue is a critical one that requires a unified effort from nations, organisations, civilians and corporations alike. With waste production and consumption levels continuing to climb worldwide, greater regulation on responsible waste disposal needs to be enacted to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations.
Furthermore, strict implementation of waste reduction technologies across industries may slow or halt the dramatic rates of global pollution seen today. Ultimately, it is up to every individual to do their part in creating a healthier environment for our current and future societies.
Related article: 5 Cutting-Edge Breakthroughs in Waste Management Technology