Garbage, garbage, everywhere

March 16, 2010 — by David Eng

As one famous poem goes, “water, water, everywhere.” Well, in our nation’s case, the phrase should be changed to “garbage, garbage, everywhere.”

According www.greenwaste.com, Americans will generate an astounding 222 million tons of waste this year. In other words, America’s total yearly waste would fill a convoy of garbage trucks long enough to wrap around the earth six times and reach halfway to the moon.

This outrageous amount of consumption dwarfs that of any other world power. By comparison, the average North American consumes 10 times as much as the average person living in China and 30 times as much as the average person living in India.

Perhaps this relatively low rate of consumption for the world’s two largest nations is a good thing. After all, at the consumption level of the average American, at least four additional planets worth of resources would be needed to support the planet’s six billion inhabitants.
The “nature” of garbage production

While this habitual production of trash does indeed put a significant dent in our planet’s resources, the real problem emerges when we observe the harm done to the environment as a whole.

Extensive garbage production is a lose-lose situation. In addition to consuming resources, Americans produce trash as a harmful byproduct.

Let’s examine this harmful effect with respect to timber products. Research by www.cleanair.org has concluded that 900 million trees are cut down every year to provide raw materials for American paper and pulp mills. In one lifetime, the average American uses 18 tons of paper and 23 tons of wood.

In addition to this huge depletion of natural resources at the “wanting” end of the spectrum, the problem continues at the “wasting” end. Only about one-tenth of all solid garbage in the U.S. actually gets recycled. In fact, every year Americans trash enough office paper to build a 12-foot wall from Los Angeles to New York City. The Great Wall of American Waste, anyone?
Saratoga High’s small-scale problem

Sure, we can chalk this large-scale problem up as everyone else’s mess. However, the fact of the matter is, Saratogans contribute our fair share of trash, too.

According to maintenance head Brian Moran, the school’s recently acquired 30 cubic yard trash compactor fills up in a matter of three weeks.

That’s 30 cubic yards of compacted trash–in the typical size of a student’s bedroom. In other words, the school contributes a heaping bedroom-sized block of trash to landfills every three weeks.

What’s worse: Moran estimates that 25 percent of garbage in trash cans should actually go in a recycling container. An easy choice to recycle rather than drop in the trash can or on the ground could translate to 25 percent less garbage for the school.

To the school’s credit, however, students and staff have been improving over the years. Assistant principal Karen Hyde emphasized that since the installation of the new trash cans last spring, kids have been more conscious about throwing away their trash. But, she said, they have still not exactly recycling habitually.

Hyde stressed student awareness as the most crucial factor to keeping the campus clean.

As student awareness continues to increase, maybe the basic idea of “waste not, want not” will not whizz by the heads of the next generation of Americans.