Have you thrown something away today? If you are like most people the answer would be yes. Americans throw away enough garbage every day to fill 63, 000 garbage trucks. That’s enough garbage in a year, that if we lined the garbage trucks end to end they would reach half way to the moon. That averages to about 7 pounds per person each day.
So where does garbage come from? Where does it go? What can we do to improve the amount of garbage we create? Let’s find out . . .
Garbage Comes in Two Forms
Garbage is either biodegradable or non-biodegradable. Biodegradable means that it will decay and can become soil. Yes, soil! That is all soil is anyway — decayed plants and animals. Biodegradable items are plants, plant parts, animal waste, and parts of animals, like hair, skin and muscles. Bones too, although they may take a lot longer to degrade. Paper is a good example of a good biodegradable material. It came from trees, so it falls into the “plant parts” category. If you bury a piece of paper in the flowerbed in your back yard, it will decay and in approximately three months’ time, you will not be able to find it.
Non-biodegradable garbage is not going to decay ever or the decay will take thousands of years. These items are usually made from chemicals or minerals that do not break down. Aluminum foil could be buried next to that piece of paper in your back yard and it will look almost like it did the day it was buried — while the piece of paper will be decaying or maybe even gone depending upon how much time you gave the process. Plastic, glass, rubber, and aluminum cans are just a few examples of non-biodegradable trash.
How Does Garbage Decay?
Biodegradable matter will decay if given enough time. The timecan vary depending upon the density of the matter, weather conditions, location, temperature, and the number of decomposers that live in that area. What are decomposers, you ask?
Decomposers can be animals, earthworms, insects, fungus, bacteria, or any other organism that eats biodegradable matter. If you dropped an apple core on the playground at school, it would not take long before the apple core would begin to rot. Small animals may come and nibble on the remains of your apple. Some might even take the apple to their home. But even if they didn’t, bacteria from your saliva would begin to digest your apple. Mold or another fungus might begin to grow on the core. Insects and birds might eat from it too. And before you know it, the apple would be gone. Some of it actually left with the creature that ate it, but some of it was reduced to humus. Or soil.
Have you ever noticed that when the leaves fall in the autumn that they can pile up around doorways and under bushes? If they don’t get raked and removed, that would happen year after year, after year. So why don’t the doorways of some buildings have gigantic piles of leaves from decades of accumulation? Because the leaves decompose rather quickly and return to the soil. They become humus. The energy that was in that leaf when it was on the tree returns to the soil to provide for the plants that will grow there later on.
Where Does Our Garbage Go?
When we throw things away, it doesn’t just sit in the garbage can. We put the big garbage can out one day a week for the garbage man. Garbage men are now called trash collectors, waste handlers or sanitation workers. The trash is then dumped into a huge truck and hauled to the landfill in many communities. The landfill has also been called the dump, because the trash is dumped there.
At the landfill, some of the trash might be burned, some is buried under the soil and some is recycled. A lot of planning goes into the work done at a landfill. Management companies make sure that the decomposing trash does not harm people or the water system. They work hard to keep hazardous waste out of the landfill and to find ways to do all of this efficiently, safely, and cost effectively.
Learn more about landfills at one of these sites:
Only a little more than half of all of the garbage ends up in the landfills. So where does the rest go? Another 33% is recycled and the rest is burned in incinerators. Incinerators are special facilities that burn the trash down to ash. The ash is then buried in landfills. Scrubbers and filters are used to make sure that the incinerators do not release pollution during the burning process. Learn more about incinerators and how they work.