Why Adopting A Plastic-Free Lifestyle Isn’t Enough
When presented with the facts, most can agree that trash is a serious threat to our environment. However, facts about trash are shrouded in misunderstandings that make it seem like we’ve got it under control.
We’ve been taught that everything we put in the recycle bin is recycled, compostable materials are better than plastic, and although it takes a long time, the trash in our landfills will eventually biodegrade. We’re repeatedly told the amount of time each material takes to break down, creating the assumption that biodegradable products are actually breaking down. Unfortunately, that’s not the truth.
What really happens in a landfill
In school, we learned that landfills are large mountains of trash that will eventually decompose, even if it takes hundreds of years. This information makes some people feel bad about their trash production, but not too bad, because eventually, it will decompose.
The truth is, landfills are specifically designed to prevent decomposition. Decomposition produces two byproducts that are harmful to the environment – leachate (a fluid) and methane (a gas). Landfills are constructed to keep materials stable and prevent these byproducts. This is easily verified by reading documentation written by municipal landfill operators.
The alarming truth is that nothing you put in your trash can is going to biodegrade in a landfill – not even a banana peel. In a landfill, food doesn’t decompose – it becomes embalmed.
The article linked above discusses “trash archaeologists” who found a 10-year-old pack of hot dogs “good as new,” and a newspaper from 1967 that was “almost good as new.”
The time it takes for something to biodegrade is irrelevant
Perhaps you’ve heard that plastic takes between 450-1,000 years to biodegrade, and plastics made with Polyethylene Terephthalate never biodegrade. This is why plastic recycling is recommended. However, biodegradable plastic alternatives – when dumped in a landfill – won’t biodegrade, either.
Living a plastic-free life isn’t enough to save the environment
Maybe you’ve stopped buying bottled water, single-use plastic bags, and cutlery, and have opted for compostable products instead. Compostable products are readily available and come in the form of plates, bowls, cups, cutlery, and even takeout containers.
Switching to compostable materials is well-intentioned, but there’s something you should know about these materials: they won’t biodegrade unless they’re sent to a commercial composting facility.
According to one compostable product manufacturer, their products can break down in a commercial compost facility in as little as 45 to 60 days, depending on the material it’s made of. The key phrase repeated throughout the article linked above is “if it is placed in the appropriate type of facility.” The article also makes it clear that compostable products will not break down in your backyard compost pile, nor will they break down in a landfill. Many people have tested this theory by trying to compost these products without success.
Compostable materials hold promise, but until we get another bin for “compostable materials” on every curb in America, and train people to separate another material, these products will continue to end up in landfills.
Rising tides will put more toxic materials into the oceans
A recent study predicts that the world’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050. Within that same time frame, our oceans will face another threat: manmade toxic building materials.
Rising sea levels are a hidden threat to the environment and will eventually swallow coastal towns. This means literal tons of toxic building materials, along with many other toxic items, will end up in the ocean.
For instance, in Florida, $413 billion in properties are at risk of being swept out to sea in the year 2100. “The figures come from a Zillow study,” Beycome reports, “which also found that 1.9 million homes in America, which are worth a combined $882 billion, could potentially be underwater by the year 2100.”
Many coastal residents are aware of this threat and are doing what they can to use environmentally friendly building materials. However, it’s hard to estimate the actual impact. It’s not practical to move entire coastal cities inland, so we have to assume that millions of homes will probably be swept out to sea at some point.
The answer is to reduce consumption
Trash poses a bigger threat to our planet than it seems. We’ve got to find ways to reduce the amount of trash we produce as consumers and businesses. Businesses in every industry are capable of reducing their trash production.
If everyone simply composted the food scraps, it would significantly reduce the amount of trash that goes to the landfill. Small changes like this, executed on a global scale, will give us more time to come up with a better, broader solution.