Ever wonder where your trash or recycling goes after you throw it away?
Many of us think we know. It goes to the curb on a particular night, come rain, sleet or snow. (Although, if the local raccoons are particularly feisty, it may not stay there.)
Or we haul it ourselves to the local transfer station.
We may grumble as we pay our local tax bill or separate waste removal charges, but once it’s out of sight it’s out of mind.
That may not be true for much longer.
As staff writer Jim Hand notes in today’s front page story, there are fewer and fewer places — in state or out — where we can pack off our household solid waste with the reasonable expectation that it will be disposed of properly.
Existing landfills, the more carefully managed successor to the old town dump, are either buried under permanent caps or reaching capacity.
Not surprisingly, no one is rushing to open new landfill facilities.
Besides the lack of available space, environmental and zoning regulations — not to mention the prospect of opposition from outraged neighbors — make that a particularly daunting prospect.
Waste-to-energy plants, which burn garbage to generate electricity, were once touted as answers to our growing solid waste problem.
But those plants are at capacity and frequently down for maintenance work. Once, recycling more stuff than we were throwing out was the forward-looking, responsible and environmentally correct solution. Except that the companies — often overseas — that turn that recycled material into new products are becoming more finicky about what they will accept.
China, in particular, is balking at becoming the destination for uncounted tons of trash from foreigners.
The Mass.gov website notes, “Tighter end-market specifications for recovered paper and plastics have led to higher processing costs and lower revenues, particularly for paper.”
So if our waste can’t be buried, can’t be burned and can’t be shipped overseas, what do we do?
One possible solution, as some experts note, is improved technology, including new — and more expensive — incinerators that will be more efficient and emit less pollution.
Or we could go backwards and have food and organic waste collected separately, as was once common, but which might now be composted rather than buried.
The waste industry’s preferred solution — building massive transfer stations that would load household garbage onto freight trains for shipment out of state to places where disposal would be cheaper — would be economical, but not sustainable indefinitely.
Or maybe, just maybe, we could stop wasting so much food (nearly 40 tons a year, the EPA estimates), not produce so many products with excess packaging, and, in short, not buy so much stuff we have to throw away.
That idea could be a keeper.