Monday, 11 April 2011


Environmentalism can be motivated by many factors.  Earlier on, my primary motivating factor in the changes I was making was my own health.  This led me to start eating less processed, more organic, whole foods.  I also started trying to find natural products such as shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, etc., because I didn't want my skin coming in contact with harmful (or questionable) chemicals.  I figured in a hundred years we will know more than we know now and we may find out that some of the chemicals in such products are harmful. 

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
Overall, when it comes to landfills, our goals should be to reduce, as much as possible, the amount of garbage being taken to landfill.  This can be done through any one of the three Rs: reducing the amount of products you consume, reusing the ones that you can, and recycling those which you can't reuse.  If you intend to purchase an item that is incapable of being either reused or recycled, ask yourself whether there are other products available that can be reused (like Avalon glass milk bottles vs. plastic milk bottles), or recycled (like Brita water filters vs. other non-recyclable ones).  There is almost always a more environmentally friendly solution to throwing something "away".  The trick is to figure out how an item can be disposed of before you purchase it, and if you can't stomach the idea of that item being taken to a landfill, then look for a better alternative.

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