Eco-Friendly Waste Disposal Methods for 2023
In the United States alone, we generate almost 300 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) annually – nearly five pounds per person per day as of 2018 (the most recent EPA data).
Up to 32.1% of this waste is recycled, but 146.1 million tons still ended up in a landfill.
The impressive thing is that the volume of landfilled trash was almost the same in 2018 as in 1990, despite a 33% increase in population and an overall increase in MSW per person. We're headed in the right direction.
That doesn't mean we can't do better.
Eco-friendly waste disposal doesn’t necessarily require you to “go green.” You can use the following effective waste disposal methods to reduce your landfill contribution.
Keep Recycling Metal, Glass, Paper (and some Plastic)
The last few years have been tough on the morale of committed recyclers. After China stopped accepting plastic waste from the U.S., it became public knowledge that only 6% of plastic actually gets recycled and that big oil was internally admitting that plastic recycling would never be economically viable as far back as 1974.
It can be discouraging to continue making an effort in the face of that news.
But the critical thing to know is that recycling is viable and effective for some materials. Aluminum, steel, glass, cardboard, and paper are all highly recyclable.
Yet we throw away too much of it. Roughly half of the aluminum we use in the U.S. goes to the landfill, even though recycled cans require 95% less energy than making new ones, and aluminum can be recycled indefinitely without losing quality.
Making more of an effort to recycle these materials will reduce the amount of trash going into landfills, minimize the amount of energy required for manufacturing, and lessen the toll of mining, logging, and other resource extraction.
Some plastics are worth recycling as well. Those marked #1 and #2 are good bets, except for plastic film (made of #2 plastic but often not recycled). Make an effort to recycle sturdy-but-disposable plastic containers like jugs and bottles.
According to the EPA, compostable food and yard waste makes up 25% of the garbage in a landfill.
For a long time, residential composting was a messy (and smelly) process requiring a niche knowledge. You had to be interested in making it a hobby to get it done.
Thankfully, it's become more straightforward and accessible for the rest of us in recent years.
More cities offer municipal pickup for commercial composting these days, so you toss it in a bin and leave the particulars to someone else. Commercial composting makes it possible to compost a broader variety of items, not just food scraps. You also won't have to figure out what to do with your compost once it's ready to return to the earth – handy for apartment dwellers.
If there's no composting service near you, there is now an assortment of devices you can use to compost your kitchen waste with little fuss. Some of them take an upfront appliance investment plus ongoing electricity, while others cost less in cash and more in maintenance.
Either way, you can significantly reduce your amount of landfill waste and get free fertilizer for your garden.
Make Use of Separate Hazardous Waste Disposal
When not disposed of properly, hazardous waste can be a severe threat to humans and the environment through water, soil, and even air pollution.
Hazardous waste must be separated from regular trash and taken to specialized facilities for recycling or disposal. Liquid hazardous waste should not be poured down the drain.
This includes items commonly found in an American household, including electronics, paint, cleaning products, pharmaceuticals, petrol, kerosene, motor oil, pesticides, thermometers, and some batteries.
Turn it into Energy
Waste-to-energy plants are not a DIY option – they're more of a group project, but awareness is an important piece of the puzzle.
Japan and Scandinavia have the highest adoption rates of this solution to municipal solid waste.
Sweden is the star example for this method. Only 1% of Swedish waste goes to a landfill. Another 47% is recycled (significantly better than the U.S. percentage), but the majority (52%) is burned in a specialized incinerator to generate energy.
Sweden's waste produces enough energy to heat a million homes and provide electricity for a quarter million. At the same time, they reduce their CO2 emissions by 2.2 million tons a year.
Burning trash in your backyard is not the way to go – you can produce toxic smoke and no helpful energy.
Waste-to-energy plants exist in the U.S. – there are 64 of them that burn 11.8% of our MSW, including plants in Spokane, Minneapolis, and the Tampa Bay area. A plant will soon be opening in Tulsa.
Professional Training for Eco-Friendly Management
It's hard enough to make your household eco-friendly – managing the environmental responsibilities of a business or other organization can be a whole different level of complexity.
If you're trying to manage the environmental concerns of a private, non-profit, or governmental organization, then training in the ISO 14001 environmental management system can give you a set of tools for improving your organization's environmental performance through efficient resource use and waste reduction.
Enroll today to get started!
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