I’ve often wondered how amazing and beautiful our planet was before mankind began to leave its mark. What an experience it would have been to dive to the bottom of an ocean reef and find absolutely no evidence of human trash or plastics, or to walk through an old growth forest and not notice a single beer can littered along the walking path.

In the year 1970, the United States calculated a total waste generation of 120 million tons. Just 50 years later, than number has more than doubled to 260 million tons (EPA, 2022). Plastic waste has also grown importunately and now contributes 6 times more to total waste as it did 50 years ago. This increase in waste could be contributed to our population growth, but it is also true that the amount of waste that a single person generates on average has increased from 3.25 pounds in 1970 to 4.5 pounds in 2020 (Thompson, 2020).

Creative solutions that can make an impact overnight.

Step 1. Encourage more grocery and retail stores to adopt the Aldi’s model. The small grocery chain Aldi’s does not provide packaging for its customers. Customers that frequent the grocer know to bring their own reusable grocery bags. This model reduces the grocer’s environmental impact by encouraging its consumers to provide their own packaging, as well as reduce Aldi’s expenses. Aldi’s made this commitment in 2021 and promises the endeavor will remove up to 4,400 tons of plastic from circulation by the time it is adopted by all 2,200 of its stores (Moran, 2022). This approach is certainly rare in the United States, although it is quite common in European countries. Imagine how much plastic waste could be avoided overnight if Target and Walmart decided to adopt this policy?

Step 2. Provide value for the act of picking up a piece of trash and helping it on its way to the landfill. In Michigan, the 10-cent bottle deposit all-but ensures that you won’t see a Pepsi can along the sidewalk. If you do, it’s only a matter of time before it is picked up. In Florida, all manner of glass and aluminum bottles are mixed in with the trash that are littered in the bushes along public spaces. What if there was a similar incentive for filling a bag of trash and returning it to the bin? Businesses that have the capacity to store and then process the trash could provide bags to anyone who would like to participate in the program and offer 3.00$ for each full bag when it is returned. The homeless population in Florida would certainly be excited for the opportunity. Imagine how quickly the streets would get cleaned up if there was a monetary incentive to pick up that trash. While a great idea in concept, some precautions would have to be taken to ensure the program is not taken advantage of. It would be counterproductive for a person to fill a bag from another person’s already collected trash or dumpster.

Step 3. Take measures to solve the complex landfill problem. In 1988, the EPA released a document stating that all landfills eventually leak (Cozzarelli, 1988). This means that the runoff from rainwater will eventually carry toxic chemicals from our waste and inevitably end up in our water supply. Some trash isn’t even lucky enough to make it to the landfill. A torn garbage bag will leak its contents, the wind will carry the waste to streams and rivers, and eventually the waste will make its way to the ocean. Landfills are also a major source of Methane, a gas that is released from natural decomposition. Methane is a greenhouse gas and is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Incinerating landfill waste is also a poor choice as it releases toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury, and dioxins into the environment. Most community action committees agree, zero waste is the answer (Community Action Works, n.d). This is a great thought in concept, but after we pick up all of our waste, we are going to have some very full landfills. I’ll be honest, I don’t even know where to start. Does anyone really know what to do about the landfill problem with certainty?

Step 4. What if it didn’t take a cash incentive to get a person to fill a bag of bottle deposits or trash? There are plenty of fantastic humans that carry a garbage bag with them on their daily walk down the beach, and every walk that person takes the earth becomes a cleaner place. If we all could behave in that manner, the earth would certainly be clean much faster. Its going to take a long time, but we must get started.

The problem of world pollution is complex and multi-faceted. Unfortunately, it is quite unlikely that in my lifetime we will see a world without pollution. That beautiful world will likely not exist for my children or my grandchildren as well. However, if we take steps today to clean up our mess, someday a new generation will be able to experience a world without pollution. Our society has moved away from beginning projects that are not reasonably completed in a short period of time. The whole world is obsessed with instant gratification. In a sense, its part of the reason our pollution problem never gets better. Someday this generation will pass, and it’s the job of the next generation to pick up the problem. We continue to kick the can further down the road. When will it stop?

I will happily start this trend, so that my offspring may someday enjoy a world free of pollution.

“Blessed are those who plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.” – Greek proverb.

Works Cited:

“Community Action Works. (n.d.). Waste: The Problems with Landfills and Incinerators.

Cozzarelli, I. A. C. S. C. M. (1988). The Norman Landfill Environmental Research Site What Happens to the Waste in Landfills? Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved July 25, 2022

Moran, C. D. (2022, April 29). Aldi commits to getting rid of plastic shopping bags. Grocery Dive. Retrieved July 25, 2022

National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling. (2022, June 29). US EPA. Retrieved July 24, 2022

Thompson, A. (2020, April 22). How the Environment Has Changed since the First Earth Day 50 Years Ago. Scientific American. Retrieved July 24, 2022

Essay by: Jeremy Van Pelt
Palmer College of Chiropractic

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