Thursday, October 7, 2010

The business of trash

Trash Inc: The Secret Life of Garbage is an investigative documentary that just aired on CNBC. Here's a summary for those of you who haven't watched it yet, and may be followed with some thoughts...who knows how this post will pan out...?

  • The US produces 250 million tons of trash per year, and the trash industry is a $52 billion per year industry in the US alone.
  • New York City produces 22 million pounds of trash a day, and 4.2 million pounds of recyclables a day.
  • The New York City Sanitation Department uses 1,500 trash trucks, each costing approximately $250,000.
  • The budget for the garbage section of the New York City Sanitation Department is $1.3 billion per year.
  • New York's landfills are close to being full. Trash is therefore sent to sites in Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, and New Jersey. This trash is called "traveling trash."
  • Apex Landfill outside of Las Vegas is the largest landfill in the US with a size of 2000 football fields. It earns $160,000 a day in "tipping fees," the cost for a dump truck to "tip" its load into the landfill.
  • There are 2300 landfills in the US.
  • China produces the most garbage in the world.
  • Beijing produces 36 million pounds of trash per day.
  • By 2014, all 10 of Beijing's landfills will be filled to capacity.
  • There are more than 461 illegal landfills in Beijing.
  • 80% of what Americans throw away is actually recyclable; only 28% is recycled.
  • Americans use 51 billion plastic bottles per year, with only about 20% being recycled.
  • There is approximately 7 billion pounds of trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
One conspicuous word that the workers in New York used continuously was "sanitation." Taking trash away is an issue of sanitation for them. As long as from a public health standpoint the trash is being dealt with, the entire issue of trash is being dealt with. Indeed, in the US, trash is not generally considered a public nuisance, or a public health worry. However, trash and toxins may be leaching into the water and soil (the most expensive part of a landfill is its lining, made of plastic, clay and dirt, and they are technically meant to last forever), but maybe too small to be a public health worry, yet.

A man from Fox Township, PA was interviewed about the Veolia (a French company) landfill site that is literally a mountain. This man protested, many decades ago, against the issuing of permits to start the landfill in Fox Township. Now, Veolia pays the township $2.5 million per year to stay running in the township, half of the annual budget of the township. Veolia has tried on two occasions to dump low-level radioactive ash waste in the landfill. What was necessary to avoid this dumping was in his words, "constant vigilance."

Over the next few days, I will be highlighting issues of trash in China. the toxins produced when waste is incinerated, and plastics that have entered the food chain.


  1. As it does I, taking care of the environment shouldn't be a business, nor taken advantage of.

    -Land Source Container Service, Inc.