Most of our garbage is sent to landfills, dumps or municipal incinerators. But with more and more people producing more and more waste, landfills are filling up faster than we can find new sites for them. And landfills create new types of waste. As garbage decomposes, moisture filters through it producing a toxic liquid known as leachate. Modern landfills are designed to reduce the amount of moisture that reaches the garbage, and many have a system to collect and treat the leachate.
Decomposing garbage also produces two greenhouses gases: carbon dioxide and methane, an invisible, odorless, and highly flammable gas. At some big landfill sites in Canada, methane is now being collected and burned to produce energy.
Water and oxygen are required to break down garbage. But water and oxygen are in short supply deep in a landfill, so decomposition takes place very slowly. In fact, when researchers cored down into a landfill in the United States, they discovered newspapers over 30 years old still in readable condition!
Incinerations are sometimes used to burn solid waste under controlled condition. They reduce the stress on landfills, but they create other environmental problems. The ashes must be disposed of, either at a landfill, or, if they are toxic, at a hazardous waste facility. Burning garbage also produces acid gases, carbon dioxide and toxic chemicals that must be treated with expensive air pollution control equipment to avoid contributing to acid rain, ozone depletion and air pollution.
Recycling is just one way to reduce wastes. To be really effective, we have to incorporate the 4Rs Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover into our daily routine.
Reducing the amount of waste we produce is by far the most effective way to battle the flow of garbage into the landfill. Packaging makes up about half our garbage by volume, one-third by weight.
when you shop, try to find products that have little or no packaging.
What we cannot Reduce we should try to Reuse.
repair you old radio rather than buying a new one.
use jars, tins, and plastic containers to store leftovers, bulk foods and household items.
buy durable, good quality products that will last.
Materials and packaging that cannot be reused should be recycled at home, work and school. You can contribute to recycling by purchasing recycled and recyclable products.
at the store, ask yourself these questions: can this product or its packaging be reused or recycled? Was it produced form recycled materials? Whenever possible, choose products that meet these criteria.
Finally, Recover energy from wastes that cannot be used for something else. This fourth R is difficult to put into practice by individuals, and is geared more toward industry.
Did you know?
Landfill sites account for about 38% of Canada's total methane emissions. Methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas that carbon dioxide.
Did you know?
17 million Canadians (nearly 2/3 of us) have access to recycling.
The language of the Rs
The mobius loop, an international recycling symbol, can be found on many products.
A mobius loop in a light background means that the packaging or product can be recycled where facilities exist.
A light mobius loop on a dark background advises consumers that the product contains recycled materials.
Along with the mobius loop, there will be figures indicating what percent of the recycled content is post- consumer and what percent is post-industrial. Post-industrial recycled products contain materials left over from the manufacturing process. This material has not been used by consumers yet. Products with post- consumer recycled materials are preferred as they have already been used by consumers at least once. In this way, they are "more recycled" than post-industrial products. But beware! Products displaying the mobius loop may not be recycled where you live. For example, many local recycling programs do not collect and recycle cardboard. By learning what you can recycle in your area, you can make wise decisions while shopping.
In 1990, about 459,000 tones of materials were recycled in Canada.
SOME TIME IN THE DISTANT FUTURE, AN ARCHAEOLOGIST LOOKING BACK AT LATE 20TH CENTURY CANADA WILL MARVEL AT WHAT A WASTEFUL SOCIETY WE WERE. DIGGING AROUND IN OUR LANDFILL SITES, SHE WILL CORRECTLY ESTIMATE THAT IN THE 1990S, EACH CANADIAN THREW AWAY ABOUT ONE TONNE OF WASTE MATERIALS EVERY YEAR!
THINK BACK THROUGH YOUR DAY: THE EMPTY TOOTHPASTE TUBE, THE CEREAL BOX, THE POP CAN IN YOU LUNCH, YOUR GUM WRAPPER, THE FOOD YOU LEFT ON YOUR PLATE AT DINNER. NATURAL RESOURCES SUCH AS WATER, WOOD AND FOSSIL FUELS GO INTO THE PRODUCTION AND TRANSPORTATION OF ALL THESE THINGS. WHEN WE THROW THEM AWAY, WE ARE THROWING AWAY OUR VALUABLE RESOURCES. NO WONDER THE ARCHAEOLOGIST OF THE FUTURE FINDS US WASTEFUL!
Did you know?
About 1/3 of our waste is paper and paperboard. Another third is yard and kitchen waste. The rest is divided among glass, metals, plastics, textiles, wood and other materials.
Reduce, reduce reduce!
There are many things you can do to reduce the amount of waste you produce.
Avoid food packaged in individual servings. Buy in bulk. It saves money and the environment.
Buy multi-use items rather than single-use when possible.
Use your own cloths bags for shopping.
Donate your old clothes to charity.
Buy beverages in refillable containers.
Use rechargeable batteries.
Share your newspaper, magazines and books with a friend.
Wrap presents in reusable cloth bags or reused wrapping paper.
Rent items you use infrequently.
Pack your lunch in reusable containers.
Support your community's recycling programs.
Buy products that contain recycled materials.
Use both sides of every sheet of paper.
Use a durable refillable mug or glass at school or work.
Encourage your friends and family to follow your good example.
Fact: If we all work at reducing our own wastes, together we will make a BIG difference.
Be creative. There are many more ways we can reduce the wastes we produce.
Can you match these terms to the statements below?
A. mobius loop
D. carbon dioxide
G. kitchen and yard waste
1. The first line of defence against too much garbage.
2. The liquid that filters through landfills.
3. One of the greenhouse gases produced by rotting garbage.
4. The name of the recycling symbol.
5. Who is responsible for reducing the amount of waste we create?
6. Two types of waste that make up the largest portions of our garbage.
To find more about the Environmental Citizenship Program, write to:
Environment Canada Inquiry Centre Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H3
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