In a sudden turn of events, I became very aware of something that I had been conscious of, but not focused on, for quite some time: landfills. I have been to landfills a couple times in the past, but for some reason the thought of a giant rotting garbage dump didn't really affect me. This seems to be a pattern with me: I am oblivious to an issue until something just brings home to me the impact of my behaviour and then I become very passionate about changing it. For the majority of my life, I considered landfills to be normal and acceptable. Then I came across a photo of the carcasses of dead Albatrosses from Midway Island, which is near a place in the Pacific Ocean where there is a huge floating collection of garbage. This really made me question what I considered "normal". The Pacific Trash Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a very sad testament to our inability as a species to have any consideration for our planet and its other inhabitants. It's not a landfill, but they both arise from the same attitude and lack of regard for the planet and the species which we affect.
Landfills themselves give rise to two major problems in addition to the aesthetic issues and the impact on other species. They are atmospheric emissions and water emissions. Certain changes can have an effect on all four of the major negative aspects of landfills:
- Aesthetic: Many areas of the world, such as Japan, are enforcing a "Zero-Waste" policy with garbage because they are literally running out of room to dump their garbage. Two ways you can significantly contribute to a reduction in the overall amount of garbage you contribute to landfills is by both composting and recycling.
- Impact on other species: by actively reducing the amount of waste you send to landfill, you will help to reduce the impact on other species. This can be accomplished by composting and recycling. Also, by taking ownership of and responsibility for the objects that you purchase and opting for long-lasting as opposed to disposable solutions, you will further reduce your impact. These solutions may cost more in the short term, but in the long term are often cheaper than their disposable alternatives.
- Atmospheric emissions: some of the emissions released from landfill are from rotting food, which creates methane as it decomposes. By properly composting your kitchen waste, you can curb your methane contribution. Also, by properly disposing of chemicals, you can further reduce atmospheric emissions.
- Water emissions: The emissions from landfills can seep into the soil beneath a landfill and travel to the local groundwater. And yes, you guessed it, recycling, composting and disposing of chemicals properly are three solutions to water emissions issues caused by landfills as well!