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We’ve Got to Start Somewhere: Ten Ways the US is Helping to Win the Trash Wars

waste disposal in landfill

When you read statistics like “a patch of plastic in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii is the size of Texas” and “the daily diet of some sea turtles that live in this Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 74 percent plastic” it becomes painfully obvious: the world has a problem– a big problem– with trash. In fact, without significant improvements in global waste management, experts estimate that there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050.

We can no longer rely on traditional disposal methods to keep up with this increasing load, and our ages-old fallback position– shipping tons of waste to China annually– is no longer an option. By 2016, China had imported 7.6 tons of plastic waste yearly, which accounted for 56 percent of the world’s imports, but has currently opted to no longer import discarded plastics, steelmaking byproducts, paper, yarn, waste wool, cotton, or ash for in-country disposal.

Encouragingly, the United States is continually finding ways to collaborate with recyclers, designers, manufacturers, businesses, and government entities to find ways to reduce the amount of trash we dispose of annually. Check out these ten things the US is using to reduce trash disposal:

  1. Cutting-Edge Technologies. Computers will play a greater role in enforcing the division of waste from recycled materials, including using robots to sort waste at recycling center, GPS-operated compactors, and chipped bins that track household recycling patterns.
  2. Composting Initiatives. Composting (a form of waste disposal in which organic waste decomposes naturally under oxygen-rick conditions) is gaining a foothold across the nation, but is not even approaching its potential. By 2017, the percentage of food waste in our landfills was 40 percent. Households create 43 percent of the food waste (also called green waste), businesses 39 percent, farmers 16 percent, and manufacturers two percent.
  3. Plastic-Resin Conversion. One of the most significant advancements in the management of solid waste is the improvement in the process of turning plastic waste into resin. In the newer process, less greenhouse gas is emitted than when making prime resin.
  4. Waste-to-Energy (WTE) Research. WTE is the process of generating energy in the form of electricity or heat from the primary treatment of waste, or the processing of waste into a fuel source. This global market is expected to grow significantly, with renewable resources replacing coal so as to reduce carbon content. In 2015, the WTE market was already at $25 billion.
  5. WTE Promotion– Private. The recycling industry is expected to put increasing pressure on the US and other developed nations to increase the output and yield of WTE projects.
  6. WTE Promotion– Public. Governments will continue to promote WTE efforts through tax-benefits and financial incentives, including awarding greenhouse gas credits to companies that dispose of waste by WTE.
  7. Municipal Involvement. New government regulations involving the appropriate collection and efficient processing of waste will drive new recycling projects and increased involvement in existing efforts.
  8. Collaboration. Agreements, alliances, and partnerships between collectors, processors, and others involved in waste management solutions will be key to managing risk, improving economies of scale, diverting waste from landfills, and increasing program efficiency.
  9. More Recyclable Packaging. Flexible plastic packaging, lighter weight bottles, smaller cardboard boxes, and other types of recyclable packaging are expected to make a significant showing in the marketplace, leading to fewer items in the trashcan and fewer trips to the landfill.
  10. Addition of Thermal WTE Solutions. Increased use of sustainable WTE options is having an impact on municipal solid waste (MSW) pyrolysis and gasification. A recent comparison of gasification, gasification-melting, pyrolysis, and incineration confirmed that gasification contributed to syngas cleaning.

The good news is that awareness has been raised and more and more countries have committed to reducing the amount of waste they produce, finding creative ways to convert what they do throw away into usable products, and working with their corporate colleagues to clean up the mess we’ve made and stop the global spread of garbage before it’s too late.