Early spring is the time of the year when it is easy to see humanity’s enormous, modern day waste problem, particularly along the roads. Our lifestyles generate, on average, 5 pounds of waste every day for every person in the US, and most people do not pay attention to garbage once it leaves the house. Garbage and recycling materials collected by municipal or private services are taken to transfer or sorting facilities. Most of the compiled waste is then taken to landfills, and many are reaching capacity at a fast rate.
Certain high-population areas have turned to garbage incineration as an alternative to landfills; however, this creates pollution for the communities near these plants, which are mostly people of color and/or lower income (environmental injustice). A prime example is the Covanta incinerator in Newark, New Jersey. It opened in 1990 in a low-income neighborhood known as Ironbound, also labeled by its residents the “sacrifice zone,” given its close location to this incinerator and a number of other industrial facilities. Covanta currently incinerates 2800 tons of garbage every day, which creates air pollution from the process and the daily truck transfers. Air pollution threatens human and environmental health and these residents have voiced concerns about it for decades.Modern society is addicted to throwaway materials and our trash generation is on an upward trajectory – the wrong direction. The choice going forward is to work toward a “zero waste” culture or to continue generating garbage that affects everyone (and Mother Earth), but impacts certain more vulnerable communities to a much greater extent. Residents of Gary, Indiana are currently contesting a proposed “waste to energy” plant by a company called Fulcrum, which expects to transfer and process large amounts of garbage from the Chicago area. Once again, a lower income, minority community that is already subjected to industrial pollution was targeted. The incineration process, one way to deal with all our garbage, will add to the air pollution in the area and is not the answer to our energy needs. One way to be kinder to our earth and to one another – and address a major societal problem – is by giving up the throwaway materials in your life.
Julie Peller, Ph.D., is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ). Julie has been writing a weekly column for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.