Where does our Garbage Go?
You just brought your groceries home. You know the drill- fruits and veggies come out of the plastic bags and into the fridge, snacks are placed in the pantry and the peas go into the freezer. You throw away the extra packaging. All that plastic is gone, right? It's out of the house, so it's not an issue anymore, right? Wrong. In reality, that same plastic will haunt still-developing countries for decades to come.
Here in Canada, waste management seems to be under control. We sort our garbage and it gets collected by the government every week. But after it leaves our driveways, where does all that waste go? 86% of our waste ends up in landfills, while only a scanty 9% gets recycled. The remaining 5%? That gets burned to create energy for our cities.
With such a large amount of the garbage being sent to landfills, we are bound to see at least one of the pyramids of waste in our lifetime. Yet the majority of Canadians have never seen a landfill. This is because our waste is being shipped to smaller, still developing countries. Canada hasn’t issued any permits for companies to do this, but in 2018, 44,800 tons of trash was illegally sent away. Most of the litter was sent to the U.S where the rules about sending waste away are looser. From there, large amounts of Canadian and American waste found its way to the shores of south-east Asian countries, especially in Malaysia.
By sending our waste away, it’s out of sight, out of mind. But now these poorer countries have to deal with it. Heaps of North American garbage clutter the shores of these countries and pollutes their environment! Not only do these masses take away precious land, but they can cause health problems for locals and animals in nearby areas. Commonly found among the mounds of garbage, is toxic waste. This includes things like old batteries, leftover paints, pesticides, old electronics etc. Toxic waste is a major health hazard. Leaving it out in the open gives chemicals like lead and mercury, the opportunity to seep into water bodies which can poison valuable water supplies. In Jenjarom, Malaysia, many residents complained of skin irritation, headaches and respiratory problems after the area was polluted with other countries' waste. One concerned resident, Pua Lay Peng stated “The sky was always hazy,” she said. “I felt so lethargic all the time.”
What can we do to help? What can we do to make sure that our waste does not end up in other countries? We, as citizens of Canada, cannot regulate where our waste goes after the government takes it, but we can control what we put in it. Reducing how much garbage and recycling waste we generate will help. If we all try our best to use less plastic, we can drastically reduce the amount of waste Canada produces which would reduce the amount that leaves our country. Another initiative we can all take is to make sure we don’t put any toxic waste in our bins. That way, even if the waste does get exported, It will not harm the environment as greatly.