10 things you didn’t know about your garbage
You may think you know just how much garbage you produce and where it goes, but Andrew Nisker’s feature-length documentary Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home has set out to prove you wrong. Tracking every wrapper and empty bottle that leaves the McDonald family household in Toronto, Garbage! documents just how much trash a family of five sends to the landfills in a three-month period.
As the mound of blue and black bags pile up, Nisker investigates exactly where all our garbage and recycling goes and the findings are more than shocking enough to make you think twice about tossing that can to the curb. So what’s the deal with garbage? Here’s what you don’t know.
1. North Americans dump 1.3 trillion gallons of raw sewage in our waterways every year. There’s also something called sewage sludge that ends up in landfills and seeps into our water with heavy rainfalls.
2. One trillion plastic bags are used every year. Oil-based, single-use plastic bags are only used for an average of five minutes, yet millions end up in our landfills and can take hundreds of years to decompose. As the plastics break down over time, toxic components flow into our rivers, lakes and soils.
3. Plastic products kill wildlife. Plastic items such as bottle caps and bags are responsible for killing one million sea creatures annually. That’s just one of the reasons countries like South Africa, Germany and Ireland have introduced fees for plastic use, which has significantly reduced consumption of plastic materials.
4. Not all blue box items get recycled. Some plastic and aluminum items that use laminates can’t be recycled into a new container. These products are then “downcycled” and used for other products like carpet and fleece.
5. Recycling materials cause waste. While composting wet garbage produces enough energy to fuel the process, recycling paper generates waste. In transforming recycled paper into cardboard, a sludge or waste is produced and needs to be disposed of in landfills.
6. There’s a limit on how many times some items can be recycled. Newsprint can only be recycled a limited number of times as the fibres become shorter and shorter. These fibres are reduced to use in boxboard or cardboard. Another fact about newspapers: 500,000 trees are cut down every week for your Sunday paper.
7. Three million empty water bottles are thrown away daily in California. By now, everyone is familiar with the notion that plastic bottles pollute the earth. But what you probably hadn’t considered is that the convenient water choice doesn’t always come from the Swiss Alps or the Great Lakes. Many water companies bottle this life source in countries such as India, taking a scarce resource from aqueducts and leaving undrinkable water for indigenous people. There are more than 1.1 billion people in the world without fresh water.
8. Your car isn’t just polluting the air. We all know carbon emissions are a big problem when it comes to automobiles. But just as troubling is the road run-off that seeps into our rivers and lakes from petroleum and rain water. Copper, asbestos, salt and rubber are just a few of the toxins that taint our fresh water sources for the worst offender in terms of water degradation in North America.
9. Smog isn’t the only air problem affecting our lungs. The indoor air quality in homes across North America is 10 to 50 per cent more toxic than the outside air. Household cleaning products carry so many chemicals, they may be doing more harm than good.
10. The time of day you burn energy affects the air we breathe. Two thousand Torontonians die from bad air quality every year. Turning on lights and using appliances at peak periods, particularly following rush hour, leads to a peak load. In southern Ontario, that means more energy is derived from coal-fired sources, leading to more air pollution.
Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home airs March 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET on Super Channel