Recently, some have suggested that disposing of materials in landfills is a better option than recycling and that we don’t really have a waste problem at all. We disagree.
Why Landfills Are Not the Answer
Here’s why we can’t just landfill our way out of the vast consumption and disposal of materials.
- As climate change increases, landfills continue to be the third largest human-made source of methane emissions, spewing the equivalent of more than 20 million cars of CO2 emissions per year in to U.S. skies.
- Landfills are a significant emission source of “forever chemicals” linked to a range of public health issues.
- Siting landfills can be wrenching community experiences; increasingly rural areas are now asked to be hosts of largely urban trash, a phenomenon that not only removes rural lands from more productive uses like growing crops or forests, but also lowers property values for residents.
- It’s a matter of environmental justice. Residents residing near a wasteland of other people’s garbage already tend to be the poorer of our fellow citizens, with people of color bearing the most significant burdens of pollution and landscape degradation from landfills.
We Have a Waste Problem
We make waste at a rate of 4.9 pounds per person each day. And we can only address this problem with a combination of solutions, including reducing, reusing, and recycling. Recycling is not a license to make and produce more, and it is not the panacea to our waste problem, But here’s why we know it’s a better option than landfills:
- The same rural areas targeted for landfills are often the sites of paper mills, and aluminum, steel, glass, and plastics plants that rely on energy efficient recycled materials as vital supply chains, driving the economic engine of local communities.
- Across the U.S., recycling is a proven job creator and economic growth engine, one that increasingly creates supply for U.S.-based manufacturing.
- Those manufacturers and their customers need more recycled materials to reach their resource needs, and would be mystified by an argument that we should just landfill their material supply.
Recycling has a long way to go to live up to its full potential (see our 5-Point Plan to Fix Recycling) but instead of resigning ourselves to a future of more landfills, we can choose a more positive future by putting valuable recyclables to work for U.S. communities and families, while helping cool the planet, and protecting American landscapes and jobs.