Changing Planet

Unveiling the Secret Life of Garbage

In the wonderful book Garbage Land, Elizabeth Royte takes us on a wild journey through our Byzantine solid waste collection, recycling, and disposal system. Contrary to some contrarians, recycling is still important, and it definitely saves water, energy, and resources.

Of course, we can’t just recycle; we still have to work for more sustainable policies in many areas. But recycling is a good start, and it is often a “gateway drug” to wider environmental consciousness.

Take a look at this infographic on the secret life of garbage, and find out what happens when you throw something away.

Life of Garbage
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  • Tyson Green

    So, if my math is right:
    US = .3 billion people = 250 Million Tons Trash
    China = 1.3 billion people = 254 Million Tons Trash = 1/3 of trash output
    therefor: Rest of world = ~5 Billion People = ?250 Million Tons?
    Something is not right here.

  • dplapic

    One piece of the puzzle left out of the lifecycle of consumables is the man-assisted transfer of vermin. Rats, roaches and other undesirables are routinely given not only a meal, but a free ride to transfer stations where these immigrees are offered a new home at unsuspecting communties. At a transfer station near Pittsburgh I witnessed dumpster after dumpster being emptied on the transfer station floor freeing piles of garbage and their unwanted guests. Rats by the dozen scurried into the storm sewers of the unsuspecting town giving them an underground highway to wherever they wanted to go. Local complaints about a rat infestation were blamed by government officials on the demolition of a long vacant factory, not the nearby transfer station (which provides much needed tax revenue).

    Like international travelers who brought us the bedbug, look for the long distance importation of flea born illinesses ( plague) to a transfer station nearest you.

  • R Thompson

    Very interesting presentation of waste industry statistics. Check the conversion on the waste produced in Beijing – it’s not 18,000 pounds but likely 18,000 tons per day.

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