Part 17: Garbage, waste, refuse in America and worldwide
The writer John Steinbeck said, “American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash — all of them — surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and smothered with rubbish. Everything we use comes in boxes, cartons, bins, the so-called packaging we love so much. The mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use. In this, if no other way, we can see the wild and reckless exuberance of our production, and waste seems to be the index. I wonder whether there will come a time when we can no longer afford our wastefulness — chemical wastes in the rivers, metal wastes everywhere, and atomic wastes buried deep in the earth or sunk in the sea. When an Indian village became too deep in its own filth, the inhabitants moved. And we have no place to which to move.” — John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
With a population of 319 million people in 2014, the United States generates 4.5 pounds of trash per person 24/7.
We throw more trash than most of the rest of the world, but they catch up annually as they grow their populations by 80 million each year. China adds 27 million cars, net gain, to their highways annually, but as those autos age, their dead carcasses litter the landscape. China expects to use and toss over 900 to 1,200 million tires annually as they continue their quest to be more like Americans. The US tosses 250 million tires annually.
60,000 –Number of plastic bags consumed in the U.S. every 5 seconds (Sierra Club)
240,000–Number of plastic bags consumed worldwide every 10 seconds (Sierra Club)
1 billion–Number of plastic bags Americans use every year (Clean Air Council)
30,000 tons–Landfill waste created from plastic bags each year (Clean Air Council)
Less than 1 percent–Amount of plastic bags that are recycled (Clean Air Council)
The amount of garbage we discard numbs a thinking person’s mind and stupefies anyone who thinks about the ramifications of our future.
15 million–Sheets of office paper used in the U.S. every 5 minutes. The average American uses roughly the equivalent of one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper and wood products each year. (EPA)
100 million–Number of trees cut down in the U.S. annually to make the paper for junk mail (Clean Air Council)
9,960–Pieces of junk mail that are printed, shipped, delivered and disposed of in the U.S. every 3 seconds. (Chris Jordan)
2.4 million pounds–Amount of plastic pollution that enters the world’s oceans every hour (Clean Air Council)
1 million–Number of plastic cups that are consumed on airline flights in the U.S. every 6 hours (Chris Jordan)
2 million–Number of plastic beverage bottles that are used in the U.S. ever 5 minutes. The number of plastic water bottles discarded in the U.S. every week could circle the Earth five times. (Plastic Pollution Coalition)
The more I dive into the research of this series, the more I am sickened at what I discover. When you pile up the numbers for the USA, it’s overwhelming. When you pile up the numbers for India, China and other overpopulated countries, it’s down right frightening. We add 1 billion humans every 12 years—so the trash numbers will continue to climb. Our oceans will continue to be destroyed. But no one will address it; not one single world leader.
20 to 50 million metric tons–Amount of electronics the world throws away annually. That’s the equivalent of trashing 45,500 to 125,000 fully loaded 747s each year. (Ewasteguide.info)
10-18 percent–Amount of electronics that are recycled. (Ewasteguide.info)
304 million–Electronics disposed of from U.S. households in 2005 — two-thirds of them still worked. (Clean Air Council)
18,500–Number of homes that could be powered for a year if we recycled all of the cellphones retired annually. (Clean Air Council)
All totaled, the USA discards 251 million tons of trash annually. How do you compare that number?
The United States discards more than 4,837 Titanic’s filled with trash in a normal calendar year.
Unfortunately, it drips, drains, funnels and wafts into the land, air and water. We face “payback” in the coming years on a scale unheard of in human history.
Worldwide, humans produce 1.2 kg per person per day or 1.3 billion tons per year). By 2025 this will likely increase to 4.3 billion urban residents generating about 1.42 kg/capita/day of municipal solid waste 2.2 billion tons per year.
Finally, Americans waste or cause to be wasted nearly 1 million pounds of materials per person every year. This figure includes 3.5 billion pounds of carpet landfilled, 3.3 trillion pounds of CO2 gas emitted into the atmosphere, 19 billion pounds of polystyrene peanuts, 28 billion pounds of food discarded, 360 billion pounds of organic and inorganic chemicals used for manufacturing, 710 billion pounds of hazardous waste and 3.7 trillion pounds of construction debris.
• If wastewater is factored in, the total annual flow of waste in the American Industrial system is 250 trillion pounds.
• Less than 2% of the total waste stream in the United States is recycled.
• For all the world to live as an American we would need two more Earths; three more if the population should double and twelve Earth’s altogether if worldwide standards of living doubled in the next forty years.
(Our trash reaches the Arctic Ocean where polar bears, whales, seagulls and seals must contend with our accelerating nightmare.)
And to think that America will add another 138 million people by 2050—a scant 36 years from now. The world will add another 3.1 billion in that time.
Somewhere down the line, Mother Nature will kick our rear-ends back to the Stone Age.
Frosty Wooldridge is a Population-Immigration-Environmental specialist: speaker at colleges, civic clubs, high schools and conferences. Facebook: Frosty Wooldridge. Facebook Adventure Page: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World. Www.HowToLiveALifeOfAdventure.com. www.frostywooldridge.com.