Of course, the United States produces a lot of trash and waste— 1,600 pounds per person in a year. To put that into perspective, the trash produced by our country in just one year is enough to cover the state of Texas two and a half times, bury over 990,000 football fields in six feet of trash, or line up filled trash trucks all the way to the moon (Bocco). The largest single contributor to trash might surprise some people: it’s food waste. With 33 million tons of food waste entering landfills in the US annually, it makes up over a fifth of the waste in our dumps. This total would be even larger (approximately 34 million tons) were it not for efforts in recent years which have led to three percent of food waste being composted (EPA).
This is significant for many reasons. Most directly, this trash has to go somewhere. While the number of U.S. landfills has declined over the years, the average landfill size has increased more sharply so that total landfill space is increasing (EPA). Simply put, the more trash we produce, the more landfill space we will have to create.
But landfills have more damage beyond land use. First, because there are fewer landfills, large amounts of waste have to be transported further distances. This leads to more carbon dioxide emissions. Second, landfills themselves have dangerous emissions of another green house gas, methane, which is 21x more potent as a climate-affecter than carbon dioxide. Specifically, food waste in US landfills accounts for 20% of our methane emissions. Lastly, landfills are often directly harmful to surrounding areas due to leakage of hazardous chemicals. The larger the landfill is, the more the natural decomposition of the waste is slowed. Instead, certain chemicals in the waste break down faster and can be leaked. This was shown to occur in about 82% of our landfills (Landes).
While every little bit (and every high school lunch program) can make a difference, composting is important to communities as well. Every 200 students generates 75 lbs of what could be compostable waste in one week of school lunches; for many high schools, that is nearly 15,000 lbs that could be composted in a school year (Sander). Composting presents a great opportunity to teach kids that sustainable practices can be as easy as throwing trash into different bins.
Unfortunately, since the compost program was started at East there have been some difficulties— mainly, student use. We think that part of this is due to lack of awareness, and part of this is due to inconvenience. Our hope is that with a coordinated effort of students, staff, and even parents we can better utilize our resources at East to compost more effectively.
1- An education campaign inclusive of the value of composting, but also the dangers that climate change itself presents. 2- A more clear set up in the cafeteria with clearly and obviously labeled waste bins. 3- A coalition of students and adults to help monitor the bins and encourage proper use during lunches.
We envision a four part station as people dump their trays. While this might seem complicated, our goal is to make the purpose of each bin as clear as possible with distinct color coding and easily visible labels.
The first bin would be the composting bin, which should be color coded green. The second bin would then be the regular recycling bin, colored blue. The third bin would be for trash, colored black. Lastly, we would like to introduce a special bag-recycling container which would probably be smaller in size and colored a light blue.
Because often times people forget or do not notice that the disposal station has bins for different types of waste, we want to make this as clear as possible. While the bins used to have signs on the side, we would like to put hood-style lids on the bins that would also be color coded and labeled. That way, as the…