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Animation: America’s growing trash problem and the health hazard it poses

Posted at 2:59 PM, Sep 11, 2020

Americans have been sending garbage to landfills for almost 100 years.

Since the first one opened in Fresno, California in 1937, today the U.S. hauls about 268 million tons of trash to thousands of active landfills each year.

However, it's not without debate over whether these dumps are our best option.

A lot of our nation's garbage starts in the home. According to the EPA, paper accounts for 25 percent, food is 15 percent of the waste and plastic amounts to 13 percent.

The journey to the landfill involves a few pitstops. After garbage collectors pick up the trash, they take it to sorting facilities, where machines and people in full hazmat suits separate everything. This can be time-consuming, and dangerous.

Recyclables are sent off to be reused, and trash is either incinerated to create clean, renewable energy or taken to the landfill

Landfill operators follow strict guidelines to help make sure their facilities don't cause any harm. They lay a base layer, several feet deep, below any trash. It's made up of materials like clay, minerals, and charcoal, which help make sure nothing seeps into the ground or water. Trash is strategically layered on top and then buried to help seal it off.

In some cases, the sealed pile is covered in cement or asphalt and developed in homes or businesses. But those sealed-off piles still give off greenhouse gas emissions and fumes that can harm the environment and peoples' health.

Some companies use technology to reduce emissions by capturing them and turning them into renewable energies. Researchers say even with that technology landfills can still pose hazards.

One way to reduce the mountains of trash in landfills is to recycle.

Americans throw away $11.5 billion in recyclable materials each year, including paper, plastic, cardboard, and aluminum products.