According to a new report by SWEEP, the Solid Waste Environmental Excellence Protocol, North America’s 2000 active landfills are rapidly reaching their maximum capacity. While we can’t predict exactly what this means for the country, we can be certain that this increasingly alarming situation will cause problems when it comes to managing our waste.
We’ve all become aware of the single-use plastic problem and how damaging it can be for the environment, but a huge part of the landfill crisis right now is food waste. While people have the option to recycle food waste, compost food waste, or just reduce it altogether, it seems that our leftovers are still taking up large amounts of space in our local landfills.
Keep reading to find out more about the state of North American landfills, how food waste is contributing to the problem, and how you can minimize your own impact.
What is a Landfill and What Are They Designed to Do?
Before the first municipal dumps appeared across America in the 20th century, humans either burned their garbage or buried it to avoid disease. The Fresno Municipal Sanitary Landfill is considered to be the first modern landfill of its kind, beginning in 1937 and sparking the beginning of our main form of waste management.
While the original ‘dumps’ were merely an excavated hole in the ground where people could throw their garbage, unregulated and unchecked, landfills were slightly better planned. They’re maintained and regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), accepting Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and other materials for a fee. The waste is layered in the ground, covered with soil and left to decompose.
While this idea probably seemed reasonable back in the day, the reality is far from rosy: North America’s landfills are soon to reach capacity.
Why Are Landfills Damaging to the Environment?
As well as being an eyesore, landfills are a major source of pollution. There are three key reasons why landfills are damaging to the environment, mostly due to the byproducts that are created as a result of decomposing waste at such a slow rate.
Many objects and materials that end up in landfills contain a range of toxic substances which will ultimately enter the environment, leaching into our soil and groundwater. Some of the substances present include mercury, arsenic, cadmium, solvents, acid and lead – just to name a few.
When waste breaks down in the landfill and water filters through that waste, the resulting liquid is called a leachate. As well as being unbearably foul-smelling, leachate is also incredibly toxic because it carries many of the substances previously mentioned, broken down from waste and infused into landfill liquid. If managed incorrectly, it can pollute groundwater, land and water ways.
3. Greenhouse Gases
Greenhouse gas production is the greatest threat posed by landfills. According to the EPA, 103 million tonnes of food waste ended up in American landfills in 2018 – a staggering and worrying statistic when you consider the damage it does to the planet.
Further, these estimates do not account for the measure of emissions contributed by waste prior to arriving at the landfill site. Transportation emissions from waste collection vehicles are an often under-reported statistic: a single waste collection vehicle can emit up to 99 kg of CO2 per tonne of waste hauled.
The Food Waste Problem
Up to half of all household waste is made up of food waste.
Whether it’s the leftovers scraped from our plates or a truckload of unwanted meals, food waste has a huge impact on the emissions that enter our atmosphere.
Food waste is composed of over 90% liquid mass: this means that food waste is one of the heaviest items being carted around by waste hauling vehicles. Given that 50% of all waste collected is food waste, this adds both weight and volume to waste hauling vehicles, requiring more collection trips and more gas to carry the heavy load.
The fun doesn't stop there: once the food waste ends up in landfills, it begins to decompose anaerobically, and releases methane gas.
Researchers at NASA and Scientific Aviation found that some of America’s ‘super-emitting’ landfills are responsible for 43% of all global methane emissions, a gas which is 25 times more damaging for the environment than carbon dioxide. Methane settles in the atmosphere and traps heat, contributing to the ever-growing climate crisis.
What’s the State of North America’s Landfills?
America is currently facing a huge waste problem. Thanks to immense food wastage, a lack of recycling and the super-emitting landfills previously mentioned, the US currently ranks number 1 per capita in the world for waste production.
As well as producing large amounts of waste, the country is also responsible for exporting massive quantities abroad in an attempt to save space. While it has decreased in recent years, the US still exported 1.37 billion pounds of scrap plastic in 2020. This practice certainly opens up more space in fast-filling landfills, but it is a stop-gap measure which is already presenting its own host of political and economic problems. Further, this type of "waste management" is ultimately still contributing to the global waste problem.
With space quickly running out and global warming becoming the priority issue, it’s never been more important for North America’s population to wake up to the crisis, especially when it comes to food waste and how to recycle it.
How Can I Manage My Food Waste at Home?
The prospect can be daunting, but managing, recycling and reusing food waste at home is now easier than ever before. By using a food recycling device like the FoodCycler, households can save their scraps and break them down into a planet-friendly product, perfect for fertilizing home or community gardens.
Much like a composter, the FoodCycler conserves landfill space taken up by food and reduces the carbon emissions of transportation. Devices like this are paving the way for a greener future by preventing food waste build up and giving people a smarter option for food waste recycling.
The FoodCycler breaks down waste during a 3-step process, cutting out methane emissions and compressing food into manageable, useful mulch:
Drying - Heating and aeration dehydrates waste and begins to break it down.
Grinding - Once dehydrated, food waste is pulverized into mulch.
Cooling - Ensures that the removable bucket and by-product are safe to handle.
It’s never been easier or more important to manage your food waste at home. As our landfills reach capacity and our methane emissions reach an all-time high, it’s time to take responsibility for the planet’s survival into our own hands.
That’s everything you need to know about the state of North America’s landfills and how the food waste crisis is contributing to their impact. To find out more about food waste and get your hands on your very own FoodCycler, check out our website today.