Wasted Potential

The underestimated effects of waste pollution and how it can be reduced

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Americans overlook the massive amounts of trash produced each day. Unaware of the candy wrappers and fast food packaging that pollutes their surroundings while scrolling through the latest social media posts.

The United States makes up 4% of the world’s population, produces 12% of its trash and 33% of its solid waste. Which should come as no surprise due to the fact that America is listed as the ninth wealthiest country in the world. Wealth directly correlates to waste production as the demand for consumer items increases.

While merchandising requests continue to grow, so does the amount of plastic pollution through packaging choices made by renowned businesses. In fact one-hundred companies are responsible for more than 90 percent of all global plastic, according to the The Plastic Waste Makers index report.

In February of 2022, CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos announced his donation of 791 million dollars to 16 organizations to combat the effects of climate change. Though, according to a new Oceana report, Amazon generated an estimated 465 million pounds of packaging waste. Which is enough plastic to circle the earth more than 500 times. This has polluted waterways and seas around the world.

As a result, recent studies estimate that 90 percent of all seabirds and 52 percent of all sea turtles have ingested plastic as of this year. If we continue to produce waste at this trending rate that’s had a 204% increase since 1960. The environment will no longer stay silent.

Landfills rank as the third-largest source of methane emissions because they cause around 5% of methane emissions.

Every year the 139.6 million tons of waste which the United States produces ends up in landfills. Twenty-two percent of that waste comes from food and 19% from plastics. The United States overall has created 268 million tons of waste.

So where is that 128.4 million tons of waste going?

The answer to this question should come as no shock to the public. This is no government conspiracy. National Geographic states that around eight million metric tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean each year. They have concluded that 1.13 to 2.24 million metric tons have been contributed by the United States.

These microplastics provide health risks to the human population and can enter the body through inhalation or consumption through food and drinks. They can cause damage to human cells and leaches harmful chemicals into the digestive tract leading to liver failure according to the University of Stanford.

However, while it seems like nothing is being done about the poorly managed waste polluting surrounding ecosystems, many small businesses and well-known corporations are working toward solving this problem.

Patagonia was the first outdoor clothing manufacturer to transform trash into fleece and is currently launching a new line of sustainable jackets made from recycled fishing nets.

Zara, which is a brand that specializes in fast fashion, is ironically going green through its packaging. All of Zara’s orders are shipped in recycled cardboard boxes, with 1 billion recycled security tags and 10% thinner plastic bags when shipping clothing..

This may not seem like it’s making a huge impact on the environment but it’s not only reducing carbon emissions, it’s also diverting waste away from landfills. This encourages customers to be more mindful of the waste they produce.

The simplest acts such as reusing a bag can make a difference. An estimated 500 single-use plastic bags are replaced by using one reusable bag, meaning if someone shops for 70 years (from 18 to 88) they will save 350,000 bags.

If we want to save our planet, we each must take measures to reuse and recycle whenever possible.