The Biodegradable Irony

The Biodegradable Irony

Food and paper decompose by themselves in nature.  They are, however, the two largest components in landfills, accounting for nearly 50% of all municipal solid waste.  There is more food and paper in landfills than diapers, Styrofoam, and tires — combined.  According to the US EPA, food waste is the #1 least recycled material.

Landfills are layered deep and saturated with water.  No oxygen can penetrate.  As a result, even "biodegradable" waste will remain embalmed for centuries to come.   Landfills produce methane, a harmful greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide (according to the US EPA), and leach toxic chemicals into our air and drinking water. 

On a more urgent note, we are running out of landfill space—that is, open space reasonably close to population centers.  Stories abound of trash barges with no place to dock, ocean dumping, and trash exported to poorer countries.  Landfill costs are skyrocketing, which means higher fees (or taxes) for everyone.  The organic nutrients present in food and paper waste are removed from the food chain, requiring gardeners and farmers to instead rely on chemical fertilizers to replenish their soil.  National and local governments around the world are enacting regulations to limit trash and increase recycling.


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