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CrackingDownonMunicipalSolidWasteReduction

VanessaWang

EdinaHighSchool

AuthorNote

ThispaperwaspreparedforPre­APEnglish10,taughtbyMs.JoelleReiling.

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CrackingDownonMunicipalSolidWasteReduction

Asanation,theEPAstatesin2012,“ wecombusted[withenergyrecovery]or

discardedinlandfills2.9poundsperpersonperdayofMSW”(MSWGeneration,p.2).

MunicipalSolidWaste(MSW),morecommonlyknownastrash,issomethingthatpeoplehave

todealwitheveryday,rangingfromthrowingawayanapplecorefromlunchtodumpingaold

brokencar.Onemightthinkthatthetrashtheythrowawayendsupinalandfilltobestashed

awayforever,andwhiletheeffectsoflandfillsmaybevaguelyknown,nothingmuchisdone

aboutit.Despitesuchlandfillsbeingoutoftheviewofsociety,thenegativeeffectscanhave

largeindirectimpactsonourlives.

IbecameinterestedinthissituationwhenIobservedtheproblemsinmyownschool.As

awhole,thehighschoolisalreadydoingalottominimizewaste,suchasusingcompostable

materialswhenservinglunchandhavingseparatebinsfortrash,compost,andrecycling

throughouttheschool.However,Iobservethatnotmanystudentsutilizetheseopportunitiesas

manydonotthrowawaywasteintheproperbin,whichdefeatsthepurposeofgoingthroughthe

effortontheschool’spartinthefirstplace.Asaresult,thismademecontemplatehowthis

wouldaffectourcommunityandtheenvironmentonalargerscale.Soalthoughtherehasbeen

muchattentionbroughttothebenefitsofrecyclingandothersimilarpractices,wecontinuetobe

producingsubstantialamountsofMSWasstatedabove,andbringinginthedangersthatcome

withit.Inshort,withreducingthatamountoftrashcomesincreasingthequalityofour

environmentthatweliveinoverall.Themaintopicthatthispaperwillbeexploringisamountof

trashthatweultimatelythrowawayanditseffects,andexploringhowweasasocietycanreduce

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thatamount,whetheritbeproducinglesswaste,regularlyrecyclingandcomposting,educating

thepublic,andbyothermethods.

WhataretheEffectsofMSWWhenDisposed?

There’snodoubtthatthere’salargeemphasisonrecyclingintoday’sAmericansociety,

andit’sforgoodreason.AccordingtoEPAdocumentation,in2012wehaveproduced250.9

milliontonsofMSWandhavediscarded53.8%ofit,equatingto135milliontonsdiscardedthat

year.(MSWGeneration,p.3).Essentially,whenonethrowsawaytrashandagarbagetruck

comesandwhisksitaway,thetrashisusuallyfirstdumpedintoatransferstation.There,the

trashissortedtodeterminewhereitgoes,someplacesbeinglandfills,materialrecoveryfacilities

(forrecyclableproducts),andenergyrecovery/incinerationstations(WhereDoesYourGarbage

Go,2010).However,someofthesedisposalmethodsaren’talwaysthebestwaytogetridof

trash.TheEPA’s“WasteManagementHierarchy”istheideathatthemostpreferedwayto

reducewasteissourcereduction,thenrecycling,energyrecovery,andlastlytreatmentand

disposalastheleastpreferedmethod.Particularly,wewilltakealookatthelasttwomethodsto

seewhythey’reatthebottomofthelist.

Landfills

Landfillsareengineeredinsuchawaythatwasteisburiedinorontopoftheground,

whereartificiallinerssuchasplasticorclaypreventwasteproductsfrombeingreleasedintothe

environment(Freudenrich,2000,p.3).Theproblemwiththismethodisthatthetrashcontained

inthelandfillsarepreservedforalongtime(asopposedtobreakdown,whichwouldmean

hazardousproductsaremade),sotherearespacestorageconcerns.Sincelandfillsareproneto

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leaking,theyandthesurroundinggroundwaterhastoconstantlybemanagedandtestedeveryso

often.Landfillsaredesignedtostickaroundforalongtime,butasGhiban(2012)pointsout:

Older,poorlydesignedorpoorlymanagedlandfillscancreateanumberof

adverseenvironmentalimpactssuchaswind­blownlitter,attractionofvermin,

andgenerationofliquidleachate[liquidthathaspassedthroughtrashandhas

pickedupenvironmentallyharmfulsubstances].Anothercommonbyproductof

landfillsisgas…whichisproducedasorganicwastebreaksdown[whichcreates]

odourproblems,killsurfacevegetation,andisagreenhousegas.(p.2)

WhilelandfillsareacommonsolutiontodiscardingMSW,theyaretheleastpreferableway

sincethissolutionisultimatelyonlytemporaryandposessignificanthealthandenvironmental

problemsalongtheway.

Incinerators

Incineratorsatfirstglancemaybeconsideredaslightlybetteroption,sinceburningcan

produceenergyandthuslesstrashdoesnotgotolandfills,butthisprocessalsohasitscons.A

majorcomponentisthatthereisrelativelylowenergyreturnfromburning,makingitan

inefficientprocess.Also,itcanbeaburdentoacommunitytohaveaplantnearby,sincethere

arehealthproblemsthatcanoccurfrompollutionemitted,andthatbuildingandmanaginga

plantiscostlyevenwhentakingintoconsiderationtheenergyproduced(Tan&Seldman,2010).

Generally,incineratorsareslightlymorepreferabletolandfills,butarestillnotthebestoptionto

gettingridofMSWonmostaspects,astheprocessisrathermorecumbersomeandexpensive

anyways.Allthisbeingsaid,itcanbegenerallybeagreeduponthatthrowingawaylessisbetter

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fortheenvironmentandeveryone.But,takingaquicklookatsomestatisticsshowsthatthe

solutionmaynotbeaseasyasitsounds.

ExaminingtheCausesandTrendsofMSWProduction

Frompastyears,theamountofMSWthatAmericansgeneratehasincreased,although

wehavebeengettingbetterinrecentyearsintermsofbothreducingtotalMSWproducedas

wellasincreasingrecyclingrates(SeeAppendixAformoredatainformation).Bethatasitmay,

onemustaskthemselveswhatlimitsusfromdoingbetter,ofwhichtheanswerseemsbe

Americancultureitself.ItcanbearguedthatAmericanstendtoproducealargeamountofMSW

duetothecultureofconsumerism.Haugh(2011)suggests“Wegothroughalotoftrashinthis

countrybecausewehavebeentraditionallybeenblessedwithabundance.Thefundamental

problemofAmericanoverconsumptionhasexistedsincethepost­WorldWarIIeraofpeace,

prosperity,andpinkwashingmachines”(p. 36).Regardingcurrentrecyclingpractices,people

arealsoconfusedaboutwhattorecycleandwhatnottorecycle.Firstoff,whentossing

somethingawayatthetrashcan,mostpeoplesimplytaketheeasierpathtotosseverythingaway

insteadoftryingtodeterminewhatbelongsintherecyclingandgarbagebin.(Haugh,2011,p.

34).Second,there’sinconsistencyacrossthenationaboutwhatthingsareconsideredrecyclable

duetoourfederalstructure.“Messagesaremixed.Forexample,phonebooksarerecyclablein

Cary,NC,butnotinnearbyDurham,eventhoughthecities’recyclablesaretakentothesame

sortingfacility…Recyclingprogramsvarysogreatlythatthedizzyingrulesandregulationsdoa

prettyfabulousjobofdiscouragingparticipationinenvironmentalbestpracticesatthemost

basiclevels”(Haugh,2011,p.34).There’salsothegeneralfactthatpopulationgrowthwould

contributetooveralltrashproduction,whichmeansthatthemanagementoftrashisbecomingan

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increasinglypressingconcern.So,despitesaidpopulationgrowth,theobservedtrendof

increasedrecyclingratesandlessMSWproductionmeansthattherehasbeenefficientmeasures

takentoreduceMSWgenerated,andcouldalsosignifyapotentialtoevenstartdecreasing

amountproducedcomparedtopreviousyears.Nonetheless,examinationoftheeffectivenessof

currentsolutionsputintoplaceisnecessarybeforesuchthingsshouldbeconsideredachievable.

WhatAreSomeCurrentSolutionsPutintoPlace?

TherearemanysolutionstocombatingthehighamountofMSWproduction.Such

solutionscanberunorstartedbynationwideenactmentstocommunitybasedactivities,andthe

methodsinwhichpeopleareencouragedtodosuchalsovarysignificantly;providingfinancial

incentivesorthroughadvocacyontheenvironment,forexample.Somemethodsthatexplore

thesevariantsarediscussedbelow.

CitywideCollection

Generally,therearedifferentwaysinwhichcitiescollecttrashandrecyclables,suchas

havingseparatebinsthatpeoplepresortthemselves(calleddual­stream),orsimplydumpingall

trashintoonecontainerwhereworkerssortthemlater(calledsingle­stream).Unfortunately,

there’snotalwaysaclearcutmethodthat’sbetterthantheothers,astherearemanyfactorsthat

thecityitselfneedstoconsider.Forexample,whilesingle­streamcollectionmayraiserecycling

rates,itcomesatthecostofhavingtopayforprocessingandsortingfees(Wright&Halstead,

2013,p.1).

SchoolEfforts

Schoolsareoftenagreatlocationtopracticeandadvocatethebenefitsofreducingwaste.

Forcomposting,therearepersonalorcommunitygardensthatpeoplesavetheircompostable

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goodsfor.Havingacompostingprograminschoolcanbothbeafunactivityforstudents,while

alsoteachingthemtheprocessofcompostinganditsbenefits(Matsumoto,2014).Additionally,

schoolscanalsolooktowardsreducingwasteasafinancialincentive.AtAtlantaNorth

AdventistSchoolinGeorgia,usinganonlinesystemofturninginhomeworkledtoteacherApril

Lloydfindingthat“bysavingpaper,theschoolalsosavedmoneyatatimewhenitwasfacing

budgetcuts”(Futcher,2014,p.49).

ReductionattheSource

ConsideringtrashreductionatthesourceisthemostpreferedwayaccordingtotheWaste

ManagementHierarchy,andalsoaveryeffectivewaytoachievethatgoalifsuccessful.For

example,alargecomponentisexcessivepackaging;accordingtotheEPA,“Together,foodand

packaging/containersaccountforalmost45%ofthematerialslandfilledintheUnitedStates,and

someofthesediscardedmaterialsarefood­relatedpackagingandcontainers.”(ReducingWasted

Food,p.3).Productsarepackagedinexcessperhapsbecauseacompanymaywanttotryto

maximizeprofitinthattheydoitfordesign/marketingpurposesortoprotect/preservethe

product(ReduceExcessivePackaging,2011,p.1).Thiscanbediscouragedbyindividualactions

suchasbuyingproductsthatusetheleastpackaging.

Overall,therearenumerousapproachesthatpeoplearetryingtodotosolvethisproblem.

Somemethodsmaybelimitedorencouragedbyfactorssuchascost,butthemoreimportant

thingisthatsolutionscantakeplaceatanylevel,whetheritbeindividuallyorawholecity.

ProposedSolutions

Basedonmyresearch,Ibelievethatforthisparticulartopicadvocacyisthebestsolution

toencourageindividualstoparticipateinwastereduction.Asstatedbefore,wealreadyhave

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manyopportunitiespresentedtoustomakeforeasyrecycling/composting.Butinthemoment

whereitmattersmost,noonecanactuallymonitorwhethersomebodyreallythrowsawaya

bottleintherightbin.Ithinkthatbeingeducatedtodotherightthing(or,takingastepback,

whatistherightthing)andchangingAmerica’srecyclingculturetonotridiculepeoplewho

considerwhatitemstorecyclecanensurethatrecyclinggetsdone.Asdiscussedincausesof

MSW,thereisconfusionaboutwhattorecycleduetoinconsistentpolicies.Forthecaseoftrying

toaffectrecyclinginourcommunitywherepolicieslookstobeuniform,itseemstobe

beneficialtosimplyeducatepeopleonwhatisrecyclableandwhatisn’t.Next,gettingintothe

scienceandpsychologyofthings,astudyconductedbyKateWhiteshowshow,despite

numerousrecyclingprograms,theimpactoftellingothers“themessage”oftheenvironmentand

ourbehaviorshowsthatthereisadifferenceinsayinghowitistold.Accordingtothestudy,in

orderforpeopletoexercisebetterrecyclinghabits,itismorebeneficialtotellpeopleaboutthe

negativeeffectsofnotrecyclingversusthepositiveeffectsofrecyclingsincemorepeoplereact

to“urgent,negativeinformation”(Rigoglioso,2012,p.1).Anotherthingtoconsiderisfinancial

incentives,whichhaveshowntobeveryeffective.Again,focusingonourcommunity,itmight

bebeneficialfortheschooltoenforcestricterrecyclingpoliciesintheinterestofreducingwaste.

However,itmightbetoocomplicatedortoohardtomanagetoinstillarecyclingreward

programinoursystem.Intheinterestofaffectingthehighschoolcommunityinthebestway

possible,myrecommendationisthatthereneedstobemoreeducationtoshowwhatisandisn’t

recyclabletoreduceconfusion,showthenegativeeffectsofwhathappenswhenonedoesn’t

recycle,andtoshowtheenvironmentalimpactsdirectlyinourcommunitysothatpeopleare

morepersonallyaffectedbytheiractions.

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Conclusion

TherearemanyenvironmentaldangersthatMSWgenerationposesthathaveadirect

impactonsocietyandourcommunity.Formypersonalcalltoaction,Iwilltrytofocusmy

effortsaroundthehighschoolandutilizingthesolutionsabove:educationandshowingdirect

impactofone’sactions.Iplantoaskforinformationaboutourownrecyclingandcomposting

ratesintheschool’strashbinsbyaskingpeoplelikethejanitorswhattheyobserve.Withthis

informationandviewofourownrecyclingandcompostinghabits,Ihopetoeducateand

encourageotherstoobservegoodrecyclinghabitsinordertoraiseourstandardsbetterthan

before.Thiscouldinvolvemakingpostersoravideotosaywhatisrecyclableandcompostable

toreduceconfusion.ToshoweffectsofMSW,Ialsoplantoresearchwhattheschooldoeswith

ourrecyclingafteritistakenoutofthebinsinordertogetabetterviewofhowourrecycling

effortsimpacttheenvironmentsothatIcouldcreateanddisplayaflowchartofsortstofurther

encouragepeople.Wecanreducethenumberofpotentiallyharmfullandfillsbeingcreatedwith

encouragingacultureoffrequentrecyclingandcompostinginourownschool,aswellas

reducingconsumptionofnon­recyclableproducts. Overall,Ihopethatwewillbeabletosolve

theproblemofMSWgenerationtobenefitusall.

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AppendixA

MSWRatesfromtheEPAWebsite

ChartA1

Runninghead:CRACKINGDOWNONMUNICIPALSOLIDWASTEREDUCTION 12 AppendixA MSWRatesfromtheEPAWebsite ChartA1 ChartA2

ChartA2

Runninghead:CRACKINGDOWNONMUNICIPALSOLIDWASTEREDUCTION 12 AppendixA MSWRatesfromtheEPAWebsite ChartA1 ChartA2