America’s Waste Problem: How to Make a Change

Landfill filled with plastic waste being pushed by machinery

Most Amer­i­cans are aware that there is a con­sump­tion cri­sis, but few can actu­al­ly explain why it’s hap­pen­ing or whats caus­ing it. Here’s a look into waste in Amer­i­ca and why it’s such a big issue.

The waste we create

Munic­i­pal sol­id waste is garbage made up of every­day items includ­ing paper, food, met­als, glass, wood and plas­tics. The U.S. cre­ates more munic­i­pal sol­id waste than any coun­try world­wide. Each per­son in the U.S. cre­ates about 5 pounds of sol­id waste per day—twice the amount it was in 1960. 

Non-biodegrad­able waste has to go some­where, and we’re run­ning out of places to put it. Because of this, it often ends up in oceans, hurt­ing wildlife. The prob­lem of waste in Amer­i­ca is also con­tribut­ing to the cli­mate cri­sis (waste pro­duces methane gas which heats up the plan­et) and has a neg­a­tive impact on human health. Let’s take a look at some of the most detri­men­tal forms of waste we’re creating. 

A beautiful ocean littered with plastic waste on the shoreline contributing to the waste crisis

Plastics

What’s going on 

  • The U.S. is the largest cre­ator of plas­tic waste
  • Plas­tics only get recy­cled 8.7% of the time
  • Plas­tics account for 12% of sol­id waste — 35.7 mil­lion tons
  • 50% of all plas­tic is sin­gle-use only
  • In the past 10 years, we’ve made more plas­tic than in the last century

Why it’s bad

  • 8 mil­lion tons of plas­tic enter oceans each year
  • 100 mil­lion marine ani­mals die each year from plas­tic waste alone
  • Plas­tic lasts for­ev­er unless we find a more sus­tain­able way to reuse it
  • Chem­i­cals in plas­tic, includ­ing BPA and phtha­lates, can con­tribute to repro­duc­tive abnor­mal­i­ties, endocrine dis­rup­tion, heart dis­ease, and dia­betes in humans

What you can do

  • Lim­it your sin­gle-use plas­tic consumption—this is where the biggest prob­lem for the envi­ron­ment and our health lies!
  • Buy PET plastics
  • Sign peti­tions focused on plas­tic consumption
  • Edu­cate your­self on what’s going on
  • Learn how to prop­er­ly recycle
Wasted produce contributing to America's waste problem

Food

What’s going on

  • 30–40% of the U.S. food sup­ply is wast­ed, the equiv­a­lent of $161 bil­lion worth of food
  • In 2010, 218.9 pounds of food were wast­ed per per­son, that’s about a month and a half’s worth of food
  • The aver­age fam­i­ly of four throws away $1600 worth of pro­duce per year
  • 43% of food waste comes from homes, fol­lowed by restau­rants, then farms, then manufacturers
  • Only 4.1% of wast­ed food gets composted
  • If food waste was its own coun­try, it would be the third largest behind Chi­na and the U.S. in green­house gas emissions
  • 11% of the world’s green­house gas emis­sions are attrib­uted to food waste

Why it’s bad

  • The resources need­ed to pro­duce food get wast­ed (think: water, soil, fer­til­iz­er, feed, plas­tic, gaso­line, etc.) con­tribut­ing to the cli­mate cri­sis and the munic­i­pal waste cri­sis. This is equiv­a­lent to green­house gas emis­sions of 37 mil­lion cars per year
  • We’re wast­ing food that could go to peo­ple who need it—around 35 mil­lion peo­ple in Amer­i­ca suf­fer from food inse­cu­ri­ty, a num­ber that could rise to 50 mil­lion in 2022
  • We could feed all the hun­gry peo­ple in the world with the food that is wast­ed between the Unit­ed States, Unit­ed King­dom and Europe.
  • The U.S. is los­ing about $750 bil­lion dol­lars a year as a result of food waste 

What you can do

  • Under­stand expi­ra­tion date labels—we often throw food out too ear­ly when it’s still good
  • Plan ahead and buy less at the gro­cery store
  • Com­post left­over food scraps
  • Add wilt­ing food to smooth­ies, juices and soups to keep it in use
  • Donate unused food to com­mu­ni­ty fridges and food pantries
  • Be ok with food that doesn’t look perfect
  • Join orga­ni­za­tions and sign petitions—several states are cre­at­ing leg­is­la­tion in efforts to low­er food waste, includ­ing ban­ning food scrap waste alto­geth­er and expand­ing trash sep­a­ra­tion rules. Being part of the voice that car­ries this move­ment can make an impact and help get more states on board
  • Edu­cate your­self and others
Fast furniture wasted and on the curb

Furniture

What’s going on

  • Over 12 mil­lion tons of fur­ni­ture are being tossed every year—up from 2.2 mil­lion tons in 1960
  • Of that, most of the fur­ni­ture being tossed was man­u­fac­tured in the last 10 to 15 years
  • 80% of fur­ni­ture that gets tossed is sent to land­fills, with 20% of it being com­bust­ed for ener­gy recovery
  • 5% of land­fill waste is made up of furniture
  • A sur­vey in the UK found that one-third of peo­ple threw away fur­ni­ture that could be sold or donated

Why it’s bad

  • Like plas­tics and food waste, the resources need­ed to man­u­fac­ture and dis­trib­ute fur­ni­ture con­tributes to green­house gas emis­sions, waste pollution
  • Fast fur­ni­ture and fur­ni­ture waste (or f‑waste) con­tributes sig­nif­i­cant­ly to deforestation

What you can do

  • Buy high-qual­i­ty, time­less pieces of fur­ni­ture that aren’t influ­enced by the lat­est trend
  • If you want to fol­low trends or need to buy fur­ni­ture, opt for used fur­ni­ture instead of new to pro­mote circularity
  • Make sure to sell or donate any fur­ni­ture you’re get­ting rid of
  • If you have to leave it on the curb, add a note that it’s free and alert any “curb­ing” or “stoop­ing” blogs or social media accounts
  • Avoid fast fur­ni­ture at all costs

The prob­lems we face with waste in Amer­i­ca are no joke. As the world pop­u­la­tion grows, so do our needs for these wide­ly con­sumed prod­ucts. If we don’t find a way to lessen the envi­ron­men­tal impact now, we may be too late in twen­ty years. Gov­ern­ments and busi­ness­es around the world are start­ing to pay atten­tion to this issue and are pledg­ing to cre­ate change in the near future. Mak­ing small changes now and spread­ing the word about our con­sump­tion habits is the best way to start on a per­son­al lev­el. Let’s get going!

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