The average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash per day (1,606 pounds a year per capita). This means 481.8 billion pounds of trash a year in the US alone. Of these 481.8 billion pounds, 60 billion is plastic waste. Contrary to popular belief that all plastics get recycled, only 8% of discarded plastics actually get processed in the recycling centers. The big problem about plastics is that they never biodegrade. They can break down into microplastics even then it is a material the Earth cannot digest. Every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists.
Trash is such a big problem that it has started to accumulate beyond our landfills. There are huge marine vortices of debris in all the oceans, called garbage patches. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest marine vortex, is composed of mainly microplastics. Plastics are seen anywhere in the oceans from the surface to the very depths of the ocean, which is actually where 70% of the microplastics reside.
What’s worse about the pollution of our biomes is that the microplastics enter the food stream. Marine life ingests microplastics mistaking it for food, even at 1800 meters (5900+ feet) deep in the ocean. Our own trash is making its way into our food as a byproduct of environmental contamination.
Although the numbers on trash look grim, the truth is that we are making changes to correct this at increasing rates. Bigger impacts are made when individuals make lifestyle changes. The zero waste movement has made strides in getting people to reduce environmental impact by adopting a zero waste lifestyle. The philosophy of living zero waste mandates that we refuse (single-use disposables), reduce (de-clutter that closet!), reuse (up-cycling the mason jar to a to-go cup), recycle (paper & plastics) & rot (compost food waste). A zero waste lifestyle does not happen overnight! But even the smallest changes can give enormous relief to our environment. Just in 2014 alone, composting rose to 1.94 million tons of food from 1.84 million in 2013, diverting food from the landfill and preventing unnecessary methane emissions.
There are many more ways in which we can make positive changes. Below is a list of easy swaps: