Don't Lead a Trashy Life: Waste Accumulates
By Isabella D'Arcy '13
When is the last time you carried your trash around for a week? For 107 not-so-eager high school peers of mine and one extremely excited environmental science teacher, the answer is last year.

As a supplement to learning about waste (including everything from municipal solid waste to hazardous waste to the Love Canal disaster), each student was given a big black trash bag, with the instructions that they must put all odorless waste they produce into that bag and take that bag everywhere. “At least we’re getting this assignment now and not during Prom week,” a student said jokingly.

The U.S. currently produces 33 percent of the world’s solid waste (12 billion metric tons per year). Granted, 98.5 percent of this is from mining wastes, wastes from oil and natural gas production, agricultural wastes and industrial wastes. So the “trash” we throw away only makes up 1.5 percent of our total waste. But within that 1.5 percent is the shocking Environmental Protection Agency estimate that each person in the United States throws away an average of 1600 pounds per year (multiply that by the 300 million people who live in the United States, and it’s a pretty intimidating number,

Where does all of this waste go? The truth is there is no such thing as throwing something away. Nearly all of our municipal solid waste (not to be confused with hazardous waste) is either incinerated or stored in landfills. In the former process, dioxins are released which pollute our air. In the latter, there is a large possibility of groundwater and air pollution (as the garbage inevitably seeps out of its holding space over time) and a guaranteed slow decomposition process.

There are two opposite ways to view waste (and a variety of stances in between). One way to see waste as is a necessary byproduct of economic growth; this is a high waste approach that cares little about curbing how much we waste. On the other side is the low waste view, which sees trash as having the potential to create new products. In other words, trash can become treasure.

Perhaps the “popular-yet-thematically-slightly-frightening” animation Wall•E makes a prescient point about the amount we waste: it is not sustainable. I am not suggesting that we will need to board a spaceship to escape our trashed earth, but at the same time it’s important to be aware of how much we waste and how, again, nothing can ever really be thrown away.

Here at Amherst, we throw away tons of stuff (pun intended). Pay attention to what you throw away in a week. Recycle everyday items that you normally discard, like water bottles (go reusable!), plastic bags, tissue bags and containers. Avoid using disposable cups and plates in your dorm. Compost at Val so that the food doesn’t go straight to the dumpster. The only responsible way of living is to waste as little as you can. Choose not to support industries that waste immensely because no matter where we decide to store the waste, whether we burn our waste, bury it, throw it in the ocean, ship it to Nevada, ship it overseas or have it produced in a developing country so that it isn’t on our land, it all comes back eventually, in one form or another. The over-60 percent increase in our personal waste since 1960 cannot be a trend that continues into the future (; even something as unattractive as our garbage matters. Don’t let this opportunity to live more sustainably go out with Friday’s trash.

Issue 14, Submitted 2010-02-10 01:50:26