Have you ever thought about what happens when we bury our trash?
Take a ride back to the future. Imagine that you are an archaeologist in the year 3000 engaged in “the scientific study of ancient cultures through the examination of their material remains such as buildings, graves, tools, trash and other artifacts usually dug up from the ground.” You discover these very large mounds of dirt, a thousand years old, bordering an ancient, submerged city. History told you that civilization took a turn towards extinction in the 21st century before people finally realized that they were killing our planet and began reversing their ways. Global warming, pollution, poisons from waste and fertilizers all ruined our land and our water supply. These triggered crop failure, massive species extinction, water crises and global warfare over the precious few resources remaining. Populations abandoned the cities and moved to the countryside to flee from the rising water, pollution and failed government. It took a thousand years to recover. Most of the Southeastern seaboard, including New Orleans, Miami and New York, was quickly overtaken by the sea as the temperatures rose and melted most of the polar ice caps. Most of Florida was under sea water.
We started with you finding a mound. What would you find in the mound? Everything had pretty much returned to humus with a few exceptions. The Glass and Styrofoam are in very good shape. Even some disposable diapers, bricks and fishing line remain. But, plastic bottles and other plastic items are everywhere. You likely discovered an ancient landfill or dump. Dumps were holes dug to bury trash. The rubbish in a dump decomposes fairly rapidly but damages the environment with runoff and pollution. So landfills were designed and carefully constructed as sophisticated dumps designed to keep the trash dry so that it would generate less environmental contamination. A landfill is not like a compost pile, where the purpose is to bury trash in such a way that it will decompose quickly. Landfills were the slowest to decompose so you probably happened upon a landfill.
In the year 2000, Americans generated trash at a staggering rate of 5 pounds per day per person. Of the 250 million tons of trash generated in the United States, 82 million tons, or 33 percent, was either recycled or composted, 12 percent was burned and a whopping 55 percent was buried in landfills [source: EPA]. Politicians and people alike turned a blind eye to the blatant disregard for the environment by businessmen and the population in general. Greed drove most business decisions and the apathy of the people allowed it to continue far too long. Rubbish continued to grow until there was no place left to bury it. Rivers became polluted and the fish were no longer edible. Islands of floating and submerged plastic rubbish grew into gigantic masses in the oceans killing the animals and fish relying on the oceans for their survival.
The world created a disposable society where precious resources were harvested, used once then simply discarded. The 1950’s hallmarked plastic as the miracle that allowed women to get out of the kitchen. Without the traditional family, fast foods became the norm. Unchecked obesity reigned with the associated diabetes and heart ailments. Convenience became the norm and rubbish ruled. The people became sedimentary, apathetic and lethargic.
Meanwhile, plastic waste grew to unmanageable proportions. Plastic water bottles were everywhere as people refused the glass and reusable containers because they required more effort. Drink from a plastic bottle, throw it away and let it be someone else’s problem. Tankers of plastic waste and other rubbish were shipped from using societies to third world countries where disposal restrictions were minimal. Herein lays the problem: plastic bottles last 500 to 1,000 years in a landfill. In the early 21st century, bottling companies simply green-washed the problem by lightening the bottles, reducing plastic use by 50%. They claimed that the resultant flimsy bottle was environmentally friendly when their real motivation was that it saved them a billion dollars a year in plastic cost. Marketing seized the opportunity and attempted to convince everyone that they were saving the environment. Had they passed the savings on to the public, then their motives might have been for the environment. Had they spent just a half cent more per bottle, they could have used an organic additive that caused the bottles to decompose in three to five years. But, their greed would keep that from happening, the lobbyists’ money made sure that the politicians didn’t think for themselves and trillions of bottles were buried.
So the landfills grew and grew. Rivers and oceans became more and more polluted. Fish became inedible then began to vanish. The health of the world’s population continued to decline. The aquifer system, having provided the majority of the fresh water supply, collapsed due to over pumping and salt water intrusion. For the centuries preceding the collapse, rainwater, in ever abundant supply, was viewed as a storm water disposal problem rather than as a supply of potable water. Political gridlock and self-serving interests allowed the water cartels to gain control of the world’s water supply. Agriculture declined due to the lack of water and increased pollution. With sea levels rising due to unchecked global warming, society reached the breaking point. The rich got richer. The poor revolted. Famine and pestilence grew. Water wars finally ravaged the globe causing a total collapse of society in the 22nd century. The dark ages returned.
Those who could fled the flooded cities and started all over. The others, including plants and animals, simply died. Mass extinction occurs in many ways. It is usually the result of a natural disaster, a cataclysmic event. No one ever thought it would result from Apathy and Greed.
Finally, the children and their children led the way, having been left with a vile and stinking world. Children are so very wise. They see things as they are. They are not influenced by the temptations of money and fame. Listen to them. They expect the adults to take care of them. If this scenario becomes reality, then we will have failed them miserably. But, this is just a sad story foretelling what may come. It is not reality – or is it?
What can we do to avoid this prophesy? It is simple. Open our eyes. View the world. Look at what we are doing. And, change what we are doing if it is unsustainable. Don’t let apathy and greed determine our actions. Think, and above all, act on your convictions. Let’s not leave our children with a bunch of rubbish. They deserve so much more.