Side Note

America’s landfills may be completely full in just 13 years

A few weeks ago, I reported on a train full of human shit that had been sent from New York to lay festering in an Alabama railyard for weeks (the smell got so bad that someone eventually moved it away). In that story, I noted that according to the state’s own estimates, New York sends roughly 265 tons (!) of processed poo to out-of-state landfills. A new report from SWEEP, a division of the nonprofit Northeast Resource Recovery Association, helps explain why that may be happening — the Northeast is piling trash on its landfills so quickly that they may be completely full by 2029.

The report doesn’t have particularly good news for the rest of the country, either. “At current rates of net landfill capacity changes, by 2021 there will be approximately 15 years of landfill capacity remaining,” the report states, adding that, “Even this grave forecast may be optimistic.” This is in part due to China’s recent ban on accepting many varieties of foreign recyclables, which the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries estimates will cause America to keep 676,000 metric tons of waste that we would otherwise send to Chinese recycling facilities — and that’s just for 2018. SWEEP warns:

As a result [of China’s ban on imported recyclables], material recovered in curbside recycling programs [to increasingly be] diverted to landfills or incinerators. Landfilling even half of the recovered materials would result in just over 10 years of remaining landfill capacity by 2021.

America may very well be headed towards a trash reckoning. This could be a good thing — maybe it will cause us to take a hard look at whether it’s a good idea to foist our unwanted crap onto someone else and we’ll end up deciding that we should live more sustainably in the hope of preserving the planet that we live on. Or, maybe we’ll just end up creating more landfills and putting more bullshit in them, passing the problem down to future generations until the entire world smells like ass.