The Accelerating Garbage-Waste Conundrum

Published on February 27th, 2014

American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and smothered with rubbish. 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. We have no place 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 every day of the week.

trash, pollution, tractor

Americans throw out 251 million tons of trash annually which ends up in landfills, on land, and in our lakes, rivers and oceans.

Photo: D’arcy Norman

Americans use 60,000 plastic bags every five seconds, which equals more than 1 billion annually. Plastic bags result in 30,000 tons of landfill waste annually in the U.S.

Plastic Bags, D'arcy Norman
Photo: D’arcy Norman

Americans use 15 million sheets of office paper every five minutes. The average American uses roughly the equivalent of one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper and wood products each year.

Americans cut 100 million trees annually to make paper for junk mail. That equals 9,960 pieces of junk mail printed, delivered and disposed of in the U.S. every three seconds.

Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch

Part of the 100 million tons of plastic floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch the size of Texas just 1,000 miles west of San Francisco and growing as billions of humans toss out plastics that end up in our oceans.

Photo: Mother Nature Network

Humans toss 2.4 million pounds of plastic that pollute the world’s oceans every hour. Americans use 1 million plastic cups on airline flights in the U.S. every six hours. Americans use 2 million plastic beverage bottles every five minutes. The number of plastic water bottles discarded in the U.S. every week could circle the Earth five times.

Living in trash

People live in their own trash in Africa, India, Mexico and many places around the world.

Photo: Lightingtheway.com

Electronic waste runs 50 million metric tons worldwide annually. That’s the equivalent of trashing 125,000 fully loaded 747s each year.

All totaled, 251 million tons of trash are discarded annually in the U.S. To quantify that in some meaningful way, that’s equivalent to 4,837 Titanic ships filled with trash every year.

Living in trash

People living in the utter nightmare of their own waste around the world.

Photo: lightingtheway.com

Unfortunately, waste 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.

Finally, Americans waste, or cause to be wasted, nearly 1 million pounds of materials in total 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 and 710 billion pounds of hazardous waste.

Polar Bear & Trash

Our trash reaches the Arctic Ocean where polar bears, whales, seagulls and seals must contend with our accelerating waste.

Photo: lightingtheway.com

Further, America will add another 138 million people by 2050 – a scant 36 years from now – and they’ll all create more trash. Meanwhile, the entire world will add another 3.1 billion people in that time.

Somewhere down the line, Mother Nature will get even with us.

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