The Garbage Glut—Will It Bury Us?
IT IS, indeed, a curious paradox. In this generation, man has traveled to the moon and back. The latest state-of-the-art satellites equipped with high-resolution cameras have been rocketed thousands of millions of miles into space, sending back close-up pictures of distant planets. Man has descended into the depths of the oceans and located sunken vessels of ages past and brought back to the surface their treasured possessions of an era long forgotten. Scientists have harnessed the elusive atom, either to benefit man or to wipe whole cities and their inhabitants from the face of the earth. On a few tiny silicon computer chips no larger than a man’s fingernail, the text of the entire Bible can be recorded for instant replay. Yet, at the same time, the people with this treasure trove of ability and intelligence cannot take out their own household garbage and dispose of it properly, thereby freeing their generation from the fear of being buried alive in it.
To begin with, consider the waste dilemma of the United States. Reportedly, Americans throw out over 400,000 tons of garbage each day. Not including sludge and construction waste, 160 million tons are tossed out each year—“enough to spread 30 stories high over 1,000 football fields, enough to fill a bumper-to-bumper convoy of garbage trucks halfway to the moon,” Newsweek magazine reported. More than 90 percent of this garbage is trucked to landfills until mounds of trash may rise hundreds of feet above ground level.
New York City, for example, has access to the largest city dump in the world—2,000 acres [800 ha] on New York’s Staten Island. Each day 24,000 tons of garbage are collected and brought round-the-clock by a score of barges to this mountainous landfill. It is estimated that by the year 2000, this garbage pile will “tower half again as high as the Statue of Liberty and fill more cubic feet than the largest Great Pyramid of Egypt.” It is expected that by the time the landfill closes, within the decade, it will have reached a height of 500 feet [150 m]. When David Dinkins, newly elected mayor of New York City, took office, he was greeted with this message from the sanitation commissioner: “Hi. Welcome to City Hall. By the way, you have no place to put the trash.”
“Every major city in the United States has a landfill problem,” said one expert. “America’s dumps are simply filling up, and no new ones are being built,” stated U.S.News & World Report. “By 1995, half of the existing dumps will be closed. Many do not meet modern environmental standards,” the report continued.
It is estimated that in California the average citizen throws away about 2,500 pounds [1,100 kg] of garbage and trash a year. “In Los Angeles County we generate enough trash to fill Dodger Stadium with garbage every nine days or so,” said one environmental expert. Garbage dumps in Los Angeles are expected to reach capacity by 1995. What then? ask its citizens. But the day of reckoning may come sooner than expected, as indicated by one California environmentalist: “We actually have garbage trucks running around town every day without a place to dump.”
Chicago is faced with the closing of its 33 dumps by the first half of this decade. Other major cities faced with the garbage plague are simply trucking their refuse across state lines to other landfills. This has touched off a furor in states receiving other people’s unwanted garbage. Some 28,000 tons of garbage are transported over America’s highways every day while someone is looking for a place to dump it. It is reported that New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania export eight million tons of garbage a year. A costly disposal process indeed. “Worse still,” writes Newsweek magazine, “some truckers who haul meat and produce to the East in refrigerated vehicles are carrying maggot-infested garbage back West in the same trucks.” Congress is considering banning this practice because of obvious health risks.
The garbage crisis is not a problem for the United States alone. Other nations are also being threatened by the garbage glut. Japan, for example, is trying to come to grips with its problem. It is estimated that by the year 2005, Tokyo and three neighboring towns will have an excess of 3.43 million tons of garbage. They too are faced with exporting it. “Garbage is one Japanese export without a market,” said one writer.
While some nations are not yet plagued with the problem of household garbage disposal, many have come face-to-face with the problem of what to do with their industrial waste. Countries, for example, who operate giant incinerators to burn their garbage are confronted with thousands of tons of ash, some of which can be highly toxic. NIMBY (Not in my back yard) is the rising cry from their citizens when confronted with disposal in their neighborhood. What to do with the waste becomes a perplexing question for those concerned. Barges loaded with thousands of tons of toxic waste roam the seas looking for a “back yard” on foreign shores. Many are turned away. They have collided with the determined NIMBY syndrome.
In recent years, developing countries have become the dumping ground for thousands of tons of unwanted waste. Some of it had simply been dumped in open fields by unscrupulous men. “Europeans and Americans are discovering that protecting their environment can mean polluting other people’s lands,” wrote the magazine World Press Review.
The German Tribune of October 1988 reported that Zurich, Switzerland, was exporting its surplus garbage to France and that Canada, the United States, Japan, and Australia had found dumping grounds in the “backyard” of Eastern Europe.
And so it goes. “The garbage crisis is unlike any other we’ve faced,” said one U.S. official. “If there’s a drought, people cut back on water. But in this crisis, we simply produce more garbage.”
[Blurb on page 4]
‘Enough to fill bumper-to-bumper garbage trucks halfway to the moon’
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“Garbage is one Japanese export without a market”