Our Rubbish Problem
In the modern Western world, Australia included, we face a looming crisis – we have too much garbage that needs to be gotten rid of. On an individual level we can solve this for ourselves with the occasional rubbish clearance, but all of that junk has to go somewhere in the end.
While it is of course best to recycle as much as we can, in reality not all waste can be reused, and certainly not recycled multiple times. In fact, apart from metals, no material that we regularly use and throw out can be used for the same purpose indefinitely – even paper can only go through the recycling process seven times at most.
A broken timber table, for example, can’t be recycled and used again as a table. The wood can certainly be turned into chipboard or paper, or individual elements of the table can be reused, but the whole thing will need to be used for something else. Eventually, even paper and chipboard will no longer be able to be recycled, and new wood will have to come from somewhere.
Other materials are even less durable, particularly the hard plastics that we often throw out as a part of a rubbish clearance. Plastics (if they can be recycled at all) can often only be melted down once or twice before they start to become toxic, and so after (at most) 3 uses plastic will end up in a landfill.
While we are certainly better at recycling many substances to create less material for landfills than we used to be, most things cannot be reprocessed forever. This means that we are still drawing on dwindling resources such as oils and trees to create plastics and wood products, and we still need to find places for our garbage to go.
A lot of our trash also degrades very slowly once it has been thrown away, or releases toxins as it decomposes. Varnished or painted wood, for example, is toxic if it burns and also poisons the surrounding earth if it is left to rot due to the chemicals involved. Many plastics have the same problem of releasing harmful substances as they decompose.
Electronic waste, such as old TV’s, also damages the environment. In addition to being made of a lot of plastic, with the chemical problem mentioned above, wiring and electronic controls inside these devices often contain dangerous metals such as cadmium, lead, mercury and arsenic.
As the waste from your last rubbish clearance breaks down in the landfill, it will get rained on. The rain running through the garbage pile will pass through all of the harmful substances in it and spread the toxins through the surrounding environment.
If the landfill is near a river, or the rain is particularly heavy, entire ecosystems can be poisoned. In rivers, lakes and harbours the water itself can become toxic, and even if some of the fish and other water life survives, it can be dangerous to eat.
As an example of this happening, the NSW government has banned commercial fishing in Sydney Harbour, advises that any fish caught west of the Harbour Bridge not be eaten and says that seafood caught east of the bridge should be eaten only occasionally.
This is because of the industrial runoff that has entered the Parramatta River and the Harbour over time, which has made the fish toxic. Even swimming in the water of the Parramatta River is inadvisable.
So next time you decide to have a rubbish clearance, think about whether everything you are throwing out needs to be replaced, and recycle everything that you can. This will help to both preserve our natural ecosystems and to conserve natural resources.