Another way that we abuse the world’s capacity to withstand human activities is by treating it as a place to dispose of our waste. We create huge amounts of waste that is not designed to be disposed of, and then hide it in the ground, release it into the air, or dump it into a nearby river or sea. Many consider that once the waste is out of sight or has been “disposed of”, then we have no more responsibilities. But, this is where the problems begin.
In William Rathje and Cullen Murphy’s book, Rubbish! The Archaeology Of Garbage, they write “There is a popular notion that in its depths, the typical municipal landfill is a locus of roiling fermentation, of intense chemical and biological activity. The truth is, however, that the dynamics of a modern landfill are very nearly the opposite of what most people think. Biologically and chemically, a landfill is a much more static structure than is commonly supposed.”
Somewhere, near where you live, there is a landfill where all your rubbish goes, as does your neighbours rubbish and your community’s rubbish. It is not a nice place, because the ground water is often contaminated from dissolved solids and organic compounds, and toxic emissions fill the air.
We may be surprised to learn how long it takes for some disposable items to decompose:
- Banana peel: 2 to 10 days.
- Cotton: 1 to 5 months.
- Paper bag: 2 to 5 months.
- Cigarette butt: 1 to 12 years.
- Milk carton: 5 years.
- Leather shoes: 25 to 40 years.
- Nylon clothing: 30 to 40 years.
- Plastic bag: 15 to 1000 years.
- Aluminium soft drink can: 80 to 100 years.
- Nappy: 500 to 800 years.
If Leonardo da Vinci used a plastic knife and fork during a lunch break while he painted the Mona Lisa in 1506, they would still be usable today. If Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart sipped bottled water while writing his music in 1780, that plastic bottle would also still be usable today!
Plastic is truly a curse of convenience that we all have to contend with. Irrespective of whether Mozart’s water bottle or Leonardo’s knife and fork had been recycled into other products or thrown away, they would still be in existence today. The environmental costs associated with many plastic items far out weigh their use.