The Politics of Waste Management at Home and Abroad

The United States and several other countries are running out of space to put trash. Here at home, only one-third of the garbage and recyclables from private and business properties gets recycled. Low recycling rates is just one problem leading to the current state of landfill overflow.

Another issue impacting the United States and other nations is that China stopped accepting shipments of waste from other countries in 2018. China’s decision has left nations scrambling for how to keep more waste out of landfills ever since. The politics of waste management have also played a role in waste management over the years.

Some Voters Prefer Candidates Who Deny the Reality of Too Much Trash

Politicians often campaign against adding more landfills because they fear that would upset their voters. They may also proclaim they won’t allow facilities from outside the state to import trash because that state no longer has room to store it. At the same time, politicians may remain silent about exporting their own state’s hazardous waste.

Unfortunately, these campaign promises often don’t reflect the reality of the worsening garbage problem. The truth is that communities often welcome landfills since it allows them to earn revenue with hosting fees. Even when a landfill closes, the hundreds of thousands of acres suddenly available could create another feature for the community such as a park. Politicians who refuse to consider adding more landfills must offer alternative solutions if America ever hopes to solve its trash dilemma.

The Politics of Waste Management are a Global Issue

What people throw away in America often has value in other countries. Despite China’s ban on accepting foreign imports of trash, items people no longer want in this country often go on to a new life in another country.

Waste picking is one of the oldest ways for people to make money and is a common practice in many parts of the world. According to Kate O’Neill, a professor at University of California Berkeley’s Environmental Science, Policy, and Management Department, approximately 20 million people around the world earn part or all of their income from rummaging through waste and selling usable items.

People from other cultures tend to value items more and hold onto them as long as possible. Many see the United States as a wasteful nation, and perhaps rightfully so.

Despite their beliefs, business owners from around the world are beginning to see the value in recycling. Subsequently, they increasingly invest in sorting waste and reselling anything salvageable. This practice frees up landfill space, helps people earn a living, and gives consumers another option with lower prices.

America Needs New Solutions Now

The United States had 200,000 active landfills in 2018. Environmental activists predict the country will run out of landfill space entirely by 2035. This prediction could come true even sooner in light of China’s trash import ban, making the problem impossible to ignore.

One possible solution is for American waste processors to burn more trash to convert to energy. Taking this step would also require a commitment to reduce emissions since burning trash produces air pollution.

Pushing past the politics of waste management and adding more landfills is another solution. Yet another is continuing the sustainable packaging trend. The United States may just be able to avoid a disaster by implementing these policies.

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