In a society that is defined by its constant innovations, a single second wasted is one more second that could have been spent on progress. The strain of such a fast paced culture has taken a toll on the mindsets of the population. Specifically, one of these mindsets relates to the necessity of convenience in our everyday lives. Yet, these seemingly small conveniences, in the form of plastic bags at the local grocery store or paper cups and cardboard cup holders at Starbucks, pose large inconveniences to the environment by excess accumulation in our nation’s landfills. Landfills have become a pressing issue, and I firmly believe that reluctance to change one’s lifestyle is the main concern to address in order to remediate the situation
The problem with landfills is that they require vast amounts of land. Finding new sites that are not in the backyards of citizen’s homes and don’t require deforestation is an arduous task. An increase in the amount of trash produced only intensifies demand of having to find new sites to construct landfills. Estimates show that a 120 foot deep by 44 square mile landfill will be needed to house America’s garbage production for the next thousand years. For a better idea of the size of this, the landfill would need to be the size of roughly three Oklahoma cities. We should keep in mind, however, that the rate of waste production is increasing and therefore, the size of the landfill needed will directly correlate. In addition, a landfill can receive as much as 2000 tons of garbage per day and the average production of waste per person is approximately 4.5 pounds per day (Landfills 2010). Another problem with landfills is that leaking can occur and chemicals find their way into our surface water, causing human health defects as well as taking a toll on our aquatic ecosystems.
I have already established why landfills are a problem for our nation; however making people aware of the issue is only half the battle. Trying to convince people to live a more sustainable lifestyle in order to prevent the harmful effects of excess waste production and landfills has proven to have little success due to the fact that people are set in their ways and unwilling to give up conveniences that make life easier. Just a few weeks ago I was eating lunch in my school dining hall with some friends when I noticed one of my friends was drinking from a paper cup when there were plenty of reusable cups readily available for his use. When I inquired as to why he was using a paper cup, he responded with the fact that he didn’t like to use cups that everyone else in the school has used before him. This same friend also insisted on bringing his own salad dressing in a plastic container everyday to the dining hall simply because he didn’t like the ones that were already provided. Similarly, people insist on producing more trash to put into our landfills simply because it provides a convenience for themselves.
There are many opposed to this concept of reducing waste production. One argument, in response to a ban on plastic bags, is based in economic reasoning and can be applied to things other than plastic bags. The concern is that if the nation becomes more sustainable, there may be a loss of many jobs for those that work in industries producing disposable plastic and paper products. Another reason is that you cannot take away a citizen’s rights to use a particular item (Debate 2010).
These points are good counter-arguments to reducing waste and are certainly valid; however, it is necessary to find a common ground so that we can maintain environmental and economic stability simultaneously. Incentives can be established that include a reduced price on things such as coffee or groceries if the customer uses reusable coffee mugs or tote bags and tax cuts if a person’s garbage is under a certain weight. It is also true that a decrease in demand for plastic and paper products may result in a decrease in jobs, but the loss in jobs could be replaced by “greener” jobs such as producing reusable materials or turning what may seem like garbage into something useful. We cannot force people to change their habits or use particular products, but by providing education on the issue as well as incentives may make reducing waste a more tempting option for individuals to choose using their own free will. Nina Joffe is a sophomore environmental science student at Rider University and is currently partaking in undergraduate research to investigate salamander and algae symbionts that reside on Rider campus.
Nina Joffe is a student at Rider University.
Debate: Should Plastic Bags Be Banned?
http://debatewise.org/debates/1011-should-plastic-bags-be-banned(accessed February 28, 2010).
Landfills. http://www.iun.edu/~environw/landfills.html (accessed February 28, 2010).