As environmental sustainability has become increasingly important in our daily lives, chances are you’ve heard the term “waste diversion,” but may not know what it means, or why it matters. Waste diversion is the process of preventing waste from ending up in a landfill, most often through increased recycling and composting efforts, but can also include an emphasis on reuse, and changing what materials some objects are made of -- e.g., changing from plastic packaging materials to ones that can biodegrade. This process is incredibly important, as it helps reduce the size and growth of landfills, and the negative impacts they have on the environment.
Burying our waste in landfills is an unsustainable way of handling our society’s trash, and these massive landfills can have a number of very serious effects on the environment. In fact, landfills are the third largest source of manmade (anthropogenic) methane emissions in the United States -- ranking behind only the natural gas and agriculture industries, respectively. Methane gas is 25 times more effective at trapping heat than CO2 over a 100 year span, according to the EPA. Most of this methane gas comes from organic materials decomposing inside of landfills, a problem that could be easily reduced by improving composting efforts, at both the household level and commercially, nationwide.
Realistically, our landfills shouldn’t be producing so much methane gas -- however, anywhere from two-third to three-quarters of what we throw away every year could have been recycled or composted. In fact, organic food waste and yard trimmings combined make up almost 30% of the material that we send to landfill annually. This means that simply by encouraging people to compost their yard trimmings, and encouraging cities and businesses to collect food waste and send it to composting facilities, we could theoretically reduce the amount of material being sent to landfills by almost one-third.
Reducing how much waste we send to landfills means cleaner air that we breathe, healthier streams, rivers, and ecosystems, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions that help combat the effects of global climate change. By becoming educated, conscious consumers, we can significantly reduce how much of our waste ends up in unsustainable landfills, and help create a more sustainable society for us all.