Our Leaking Landfills
When people started farming about 10,000 years ago, they mostly gave up their wandering, hunting, gathering lives and settled down. With all those people living in one place for a long time, they started to build up a lot of garbage. This was how the first garbage dumps were born. People have been making garbage dumps for as long as they have been living in one place. Even Native Americans from thousands of years ago, after a big buffalo hunt, would leave behind a pile of garbage that was as big as dumps today. As early as 500 b.c. it's believed that the Greeks created dumps outside of their cities. Amazingly, many of those ancient dumps are now important archeological sites! You can learn a lot about a people from what is in their garbage dumps.
What Can Be Done to Make Less Trash?
There are many ways people can make less trash. This helps cut down on the amount of trash going into our landfills, but it also helps us use fewer new resources, like trees, water, and oil. You might think that what you do is so small that it won't make a difference. But every little bit helps. To make less trash you can:
Recycle and buy recycled products.
Send e-cards instead of using paper cards.
Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
Use Tupperware instead of plastic bags.
Look for products that have less packaging.
Use rechargeable batteries.
Use a lunch box instead of paper or plastic sacks.
Buy a water bottle and carry it with you, so you can stop buying bottled water.
Give water bottles as gifts, so everyone can stop buying bottled water!
Putting Methane to Work
Methane gas adds to the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere, but it also can be collected and burned for energy. It is now fueling some passenger trains and buses in Sweden. Called biogas, this new form of energy uses waste, like animal parts left over at the butcher, to make the methane. It is considered a green energy source. Methane is made by mixing a big organic soup with all the leftover cow parts and manure, and then adding bacteria that will digest the mixture. The bacteria, as it digests, gives off the gas. The energy company collects the methane and sells it as fuel. Each cow provides 2.5 miles of train travel. That's no bull!
The first European settlers in America dealt with their garbage by dumping it over their back fence, in the river, or burying it in their yards. They often burned garbage too. Then as communities grew into towns, they made town dumps. Now we call garbage dumps landfills. Sadly, many early landfills were made in wetlands, which were thought to be wasteland back then. Early landfills leaked into rivers and lakes. They used to catch fire and even explode sometimes, because as garbage rots, it gives off methane, a flammable gas. The first garbage-burning plant, called an incinerator, in the United States was built on Governor's Island in New York in 1885. By 1914, there were 300 incinerators burning garbage in the United States.Garbage Today
Landfills have changed a lot from the first city dump. As of 1995, there were more than 2,500 landfills in the United States. In 1993, a law was passed that all landfills must be lined with a big plastic liner to keep them from leaking into the environment. They also have to have “gas monitors” to keep track of the dangerous gases that build up. Researchers have found that Americans each make about 4.5 pounds of garage every day. The United States makes more garbage than any other country on the planet. We have 5 percent of the people on Earth, but make almost one-third of all the world's garbage! So as landfills keep filling up, people will have to find more places for all that trash. Landfills will be buried, landscaped, and reclaimed into golf courses or city parks all over America.
Evan has cleaned out his room. Instead of throwing his old stuff in the trash, he decided to have a tag sale! What six items does Evan need to sell to make four dollars?
In 1987, a barge carrying more than 6 million pounds of garbage left Islip, New York, to head down the coast to a methane-producing landfill in North Carolina. When they got there the garbage was turned away because it had hospital trash, considered toxic waste, in the batch. After two weeks, with no place to go, they went on to Louisiana, where they were once again rejected. The next stop was Mexico, where the Mexican Navy blocked them from even entering their waters. Then Belize and the Bahamas sent them away. Finally, they headed back north and sat in the harbor off Long Island until October while people battled in court about who would get stuck with all that garbage! Finally, it was settled. The garbage was burned in an incinerator in Brooklyn and the 840,000 pounds of ash went back to Islip to the very landfill that had rejected all that garbage back in the first place.
That's how many plastic bags are given out at grocery stores each year. How many of those are recycled? Less than three percent! Break the code below to learn how you can help reduce this huge amount of waste.