The largest manmade structure used to be the Great Wall in China, but now it is a landfill covering 3,000 acres on Staten Island in New York. The average American generates 4 pounds of garbage a day, and collectively that adds up to 180 million tons of solid waste per year. Where does it go? Nearly 75 percent of it goes to landfills, but space is running out. Pam Farina, with BFI Waste Systems, recalls that citizens thought landfills would last forever. In 1990, the General Assembly asked communities to start recycling programs that would result in a 25 percent reduction in solid waste disposal. Bill Osburne, the city manager of Douglasville, discusses how his city took the request seriously and created programs that reduced household waste by 40 percent. Even household yard waste is collected and composted. Recycling is not a new idea. During World War II Americans were asked to donate rubber and steel that was in short supply. After the war citizens went back to their former habits, and we became a “disposable” nation again. Today we like to think of saving trees or wearing clothes made from recycled plastic bottles. Osburne notes recycling is good for the economy because it puts materials back in the economic stream. Yolanda Diaz and Brian and Sean Buck, residents of Douglasville, comment on how recycling has changed their thinking about waste and reuse. Farina believes that Americans, particularly young people, have embraced the concept of recycling being good for the environment. She expects a future reversal of roles when citizens will be demanding recycling programs from governments and not the other way around.
Teacher tip: Evaluate the recycling program in your school or community, listing all the materials that can be recycled. Survey the class to determine the kind of household recycling programs available to each student. Show your findings in a class display or on a bulletin board.