We don’t really think about our waste once it hits the bin. You chuck it in some sort of container, maybe paying attention to the coloured lid, and move on with your life. Then, as if by magic, people come and take it away, vanishing from your life.
But it doesn’t really vanish. Your waste has a big journey to go on from there, most of the time to some pretty bad places.
Backing up a bit though - where your waste goes depends a lot on the bin you chuck it in.
General waste has a pretty straightforward trip. It gets collected and taken straight to a landfill to be buried and pollute the earth and all of that. A full up truck will get weighed, pull up and dump out, before they’re off to pick up another load. Then an earthmoving machine comes through, pushes it to an assigned area and compacts the waste down.
One thing most people don’t actually know about landfills is that they’re not designed to break waste down, they’re designed to store it. Every single piece of plastic you’ve used and thrown away is still out there somewhere. Organic waste, on the other hand, does still decompose, releasing significant amounts of methane and leachate.
Some modern landfills are operated well, including sorting facilities to recycle as much as possible and even do methane capture for power. These are few and far between though, even in developed countries.
For example, landfills are meant to have a flexible but strong plastic liner underneath the whole thing to collect the oozing leachate and pump it out to be treated. However even the EPA admits that no liners are 100% effective and may have leakage in as little as 10 years.
So everything you’ve thrown into the general waste, that’s where it is now. Sealed in a big pile somewhere, spewing methane and leachate into the surrounding environment.
What about recycling though?
Once you’ve put it in the yellow bin, it’s taken to a sorting facility which could be a whole other article. There are hundreds of moving parts that take a drop-off of mixed recyclables and separate everything out that needs to be using everything from magnets to radar to human sorters.
Then it depends on what you’ve put in. Recycled metals, glass and plastic all go on different journeys once sorted - some far better than others.
Metals and glass fortunately are recycled relatively well. Aluminium, for example, is one of the most recycled materials in the world and in the US, 75% of all aluminium produced is still in use!
Plastics on the other hand don’t fare nearly as well. This is for many reasons, mainly a lack of demand, which has been made worse by countries such as China putting massive bans on plastic imports.
If recyclers can’t find a buyer, they find a landfill.
This is why composting is so important. When you compost, you know exactly where your waste goes: back into the environment to add nutrients, enrich the soil and capture carbon.
If you want to read more about recycling or how bad landfills are, check out the rest of our blog. Otherwise make sure to keep up on our socials - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn - for new posts!