What's in your trash?

What's in your trash?

The average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day. That's a lot of garbage.

While it's easy to mindlessly toss unwanted goods into the rubbish bin, it's worth considering what you put in the trash. According to the EPA, 27% of solid municipal waste (garbage) is comprised of paper, food makes up 14.6%, yard trimmings add an additional 13.5%, and plastics make up 12.8%.

The top four components of garbage don't necessarily need to be in the trash can. Unless soiled, paper and cardboard can be recycled. Food, wasted in large quantities, can usually be composted, or better yet, eaten and not wasted in the first place. Most yard trimmings can be taken to local disposal sites for compost, or can be composted or mulched at home. Plastic bottles and containers, if properly sorted, can usually be recycled, as well.  

Although the amount of trash a society creates may seem unimportant, solid municipal waste has a substantial impact on our planet. Most garbage ends up in landfills, which create carbon dioxide and methane (two potent greenhouse gases) as waste materials decompose. The more greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, the more the effects of human-created climate change are inflamed.

Furthermore, landfills often release leachate — a run-off mixture comprised of liquid waste products. Leachate is often comprised of organic and inorganic chemicals, and has potential to contaminate drinking water as well as pollute nearby ecosystems.

You can take simple steps to reduce the amount of trash you create. First and foremost, recycle plastics, papers, and aluminum whenever you can. Because recycling policies vary by location, be sure to educate yourself on local recycling policies. The information is often easily accessible online with a quick Google search. To reduce food waste, commit to wasting less of your food and composting remaining scraps, along with produce peels and pits. Invest in reusable food and beverage containers an grocery bags, as well. Stopping junk mail subscriptions and opting for e-bills can also reduce paper waste. Buying in bulk and looking for minimally-packaged products can help, as well.

Next time you bring the trash to the curb, peak inside the garbage bag and see what your trash is made of. A little awareness about what you're throwing out and an honest assessment of what you could be doing better is a great place to start.

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.