Trash Talk by SSC Roving Reporter Charlotte Pototsky (age 14)

With over 2.6 trillion pounds of waste currently on this Earth and about 14 billion pounds of garbage (mainly plastics) dumped into our oceans each year, trash has become a global catastrophe. Over the past few weeks, I have talked to friends and family about their waste production and have also begun to rethink my own. This led me to wonder, “What do any of us actually know about trash?”

I interviewed several people to debunk many waste-related myths. Continue reading to see what these Sharon residents had to say:

About trash

  1.  Q: Thinking globally, how many pounds of trash do you believe each person produces daily?

A: “5.5 lb”, “1 lb”, and “5.2 lb” These answers, even with the outlier, are not too far off. For me personally, I never thought about how much trash each person created in a day until I started being mindful about my own. I was initially on the same page as the second person who answered my questions– thinking most people create about 1lb per day. But I was way off!!!

Globally, the average person actually throws away more than four times that number, or 4.4 lb of trash each day, (note: the average American throws away 5.9 lb (Are we surprised?)!

Fun facts: Sharon collected 4,486 tons (8,972,400 lb) of trash in 2019. We also collected 2,215 tons (4,429,240 lb) of recyclables that year.

About plastic waste

  1. Q: What percentage of plastic waste do you think actually gets recycled?

A: “6%”, “33%”, and “10%”. The answer in fact, is only 9%! This means that 91% of plastic doesn’t get recycled!  Many people think recycling will save the planet but it is not even close to a solution. First off, so little can be reused. Then there is the fact that the production of new plastic is extremely harmful, and making it uses lots of energy.  But that does not stop the oil industry from making more and more new plastic every year.  The quantity of production from the plastics industry is unimaginable.

Consider, for example, the plastic that goes into auto parts, plastic packaging, toys, carpets, and artificial turf — all made of plastic. These types of plastic are especially hard to recycle. This can be due to mixed materials, pigments used in plastics, or because of processing issues. Because of this, only a small portion of plastic is successfully recycled.

3.  Q: What about Food…Do you think fruits and vegetables ever get rejected from stores?  Any reason?

A: “YES”, “Yes, but not a lot” and “They would have to look really bad.” Yay! They got it right…mostly. A lot of food gets rejected by stores because it is not appealing to the eye. Given that there are people in the world who are starving, food waste is probably the problem that can have some real and sustainable solutions with a lower amount of effort and time.. Between 20% and 40% of fruit and vegetables are rejected by supermarkets before they even line the shelves.

Luckily, there are some organizations doing some things about this. Interviewee #1 even said, “I know this is true because one time I ordered from www.Misfits.com whose tagline is ‘Always Fresh. Sometimes Normal.’ They make sure that fresh produce gets to people’s homes, even if it’s shape or size is ugly and rejected by the Grocers.

Sadly, many mainstream grocery stores have a large produce cart of ‘reduced price items,’ that they plan to throw away, sometimes because shoppers rejected them. There’s nothing wrong with a banana that’s been separated from its ‘bunch or origin!’  And, when it comes to banana bread, the more bruised the better.

There are other organizations working on the prevention of food waste too. Savethefood,org is helping people reduce extreme amounts of food waste once the food is home.  Another Interviewee said, “With so much food in this world, and while so many people are struggling with hunger because they are without access to food or can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables that otherwise get thrown away – that is unfair.” Food waste is an unacceptable problem.

4. Q: How much clothing waste do you think is produced each year here in the U.S. per person

A: “400,000 lb”, “150 lb”, and “too much!”. I’d say Interviewee #3 was the most accurate on this one. It is definitely too much. This person even said, “That number is too big for me to even comprehend. Based on clearance sales, it must be enormous!!!” In America alone, we throw away about 11 million tons of textile waste each year. That breaks down to 82 lb of waste per year for every single one of us! We live in a hyper-consumeristic society. This has spawned a whole set of problems like:

  1. The quality of clothing is poor compared to what it once was.
  2. We get rid of clothing very quickly because today it is a cheap commodity (except for the richest consumers).
  3. The workers producing our clothing do not work in safe conditions.

We need to rethink how we buy and who we buy from. In addition, donating gently used clothing that is still in a usable condition helps to prevent textile

waste.

5. Q: How many pounds of compostable waste do you think is thrown away each day in the U.S.?

A: “15”, “100,000,000”, and “500 lb a day?” The truth here is sad. Instead of composting, in the US alone we throw away 7.2 million tons of food every year, and more than half of it’s perfectly edible. So my friends, don’t forget to compost.

In fact, here in Sharon you can sign up for Black Earth compost… Check out this SSC article about it. Or just build a backyard composter! Of the 4.4 lb of daily waste we produce, 1.3 lb of that is food scraps.

Feel a little overwhelmed by the enormity of the waste problem? Me too! I would love any ideas and solutions to any of this. Please send me your thoughts and I will post my favorites. You can email me at charlottepo905@gmail.com.

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts on living sustainably. Here are three ways to make your viewpoints known and keep the conversation going:

  1. Join SSC – We ZOOM the first Wednesday of every month (for now) at 7PM.
  2. Email me personally at EnvironmentalConsulationsNow@gmail.com
  3. Visit or comment on my personal blog here

Sustainable Sharon Coalition

We inspire, educate, connect, and catalyze our community to protect the planet. https://sustainablesharon.org