by Tyler Biggs
When I first started out on this project, it seemed to me at the time to be a no brainer, that there was a garbage problem in the United States. I have been told since birth that recycling and all the programs in place were in fact saving the planet. I was only being a good citizen of mother earth by following all the rules and regulations. It became a moral issue, if I did not throw away my plastic soda bottle in a recycle bin I felt guilty. So in order to get to the bottom of this issue, I decided to get some real answers to some questions, which I felt would lead me to the 64 million dollar question. Is there a garbage problem in the United States? Would there be enough space in the landfills to handle all the garbage in the United States? How safe are the modern day landfills and are there any benefits in using them? Are there other alternatives? Should the United States start utilizing more recycling programs? After careful research I came up with an answer that I totally did not expect. There is not a garbage problem in the United States and we are not running out of landfill space. Because there is not a garbage problem or landfill shortage in the United States the government should not make recycling mandatory.
Landfills have been a hot topic since the 1980’s when the hysteria of the Mobro 4000 trash barge and an Environmental Protection Agency Bureaucrat, J. Winston Porter, reported that there is a serious shortage for garbage disposal and landfill space. When in fact “if all the solid waste for the next thousand years were put into a single space, it would take up 44 miles, a mere 0.01% of the US, land space.” (Cordato par 4.) It turns out that Mr. Porter later admitted that the report was flawed because they did not take into account that landfills were decreasing in numbers but the new modern landfills are larger and hold much more capacity. These two events started the recycle revolution and it was too late the damage was done and the special interest groups and politicians were full steam ahead with no intentions of turning back. This was a political problem not a garbage or landfill problem. The bottom line is the United States is not running out of landfill capacity.
The modern landfills are engineered in a way that makes them almost risk free to humans, plants, and animals. “ It is also extremely unlikely that landfills will cause an increase in cancer- related deaths. The EPA estimates that all the landfills in the US will only cause 5.7 cancer- related deaths over the next 300 years.” (Goodstein Par 4.). When you look at the numbers that is extremely small when cancer claims over 600,000 people a year. The landfills or dumps, which they were called decades ago, where mainly built on wetlands and swamps. They had negative impact on both humans and the ecosystem because they would leach a substance called leachate. “ Landfill leachate is contaminated dirty water that is produced when rain water comes into contact with waste material on the area of the landfill.”(Last par 1). The way the new landfills are constructed with 2-4 feet of clay on the bottom, then a layer of thick plastic liner next, 2-4 feet of sand and gravel, any leachate that remains is then taken through drainage pipes to municipal waste water plants. One of the biggest health concerns of the previous landfills have now been eradicated. Leachate is no longer a threat to our water supply. Landfills are no longer a threat to public health or the environment.
There are some alternatives to landfills. Composting, the three R’s reduce, recycle, and source reduction. Each alternatives has numerous benefits, and each has numerous environmental problems, and socioeconomic pitfalls. But right now it seems that the most efficient alternatives is incineration. That is the process that burns the garbage and turns it into electricity. One of the most innovative countries when it comes to garbage disposal is Norway. “ Across Northern Europe where the practice of burning garbage to generate electricity has exploded in recent decades, demand for the trash far exceeds supply.” (Tagliabue Par 4.) Some cities have run out of garbage and are now importing garbage in order to meet the demand to supply their electrical needs. There is no reason why the United States cannot use the same programs and technologies that the European countries are using to get rid of our waste. These facts about incineration, had a big impact on my view of waste disposal. It was hard for me to get my hands around these facts because I have been told for years that recycling would take care of all our garbage issues.
Now one of the biggest and most debated topic of all is recycling. Less is better so waste must be bad. Right! Not so fast lets take a look at the unintended negative effects of creating less waste. Waste is a by product of stuff people want to purchase. If we restrict the options the consumer can purchase, then most consumers will be unhappy and probably create situations where we are not better off, we will have to settle for maybe inferior goods. Supply and demand will take over and prices will rise. “If tomorrow we suddenly stop making bread from wheat, there will be less wheat in the world a year from now, the supply will have fallen drastically! If everyone stopped eating chicken, the chicken population would not grow but fall.” (Cordato par 6.) Innovation has replaced a large number of products, which in turn either produces or saves energy and resources, automobiles use less gas, they are more fuel efficient. Bridges are built with less steel, fiber optic replaced copper and is much more efficient. Just look around your house and the list will go on and on. When we start restricting goods we actually will be going backwards as a civilization. I am sure recycling proponents feel they are doing the right thing, but the facts show a different story. Recycling is not the answer
Most of the information about garbage disposal and the methods used consists mainly of assertions and myths that turned out to be just that, misleading assertions and they are dead wrong. The fundamental facts are, new modern landfills along with new methods of disposal of garbage has never been any safer. There are still areas to be concerned about, but landfills and the lack of space is not one of them. We as a society have come a long way since the old days of the neighborhood dump. We must continue to learn and educate ourselves to the real issues concerning garbage disposal. I consider myself to be a conservative guy. The stance that I am taking is really surprising since I really did not take the opposite side of the garbage issue very serious. It was just an exercise in my opinion to have a contrarian view of an issue that I felt did not need to be defended. After careful research my eyes and mind were opened to the real facts. Given all the true facts and figures the United States does not have a garbage disposal problem and mandatory recycling is not a necessity.
Cordato, Roy. “The Ludwig Von Mises Institute.” The Free Market: Don’t Recycle: Throw It Away! N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.
Goodstein, Eban. “Benefits-cost Analysis at the EPA” Journal of Social Economics, 1995, 24 (2) :375-389
Last, Stephen. “What is Leachate? The Secret Story of Leachate” N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June. 2009.
Tagliabue, John. “A City That Turns Garbage Into Energy Copes With a Shortage.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.