Wasted

Here is my class assignment. It’s a little rough, but I’m pretty happy with it. I got the biggest compliment from my teacher. It was supposed to be a maximum of 2 1/2 minutes and she talked about whether I thought I justify the additional length. I went with my gut and it paid off and so did all of my work. She said that it made her ill and that I was right about the length. I learned a lesson. I should trust myself more. I also have my parent’s to thank for this. I couldn’t have done it without them. Anyway, enjoy!

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Composting 101

We have a number of trash cans in our house. One in my room, one in my parent’s room, one in both the bathrooms, one under our kitchen sink, and then the biggest one which used to be the garage, but we moved it into the kitchen. My mom has a daycare and the changing table is her room along with the diaper trash which is taken out every day except for the weekend. The kitchen trash and the garage trash were also usually taken out every day. With the day care comes a lot of extra food. Some kids are pickier about what food they eat than others, but still a lot of food is used and wasted which is why we had so much trash. We started recycling which cut down the garage trash a little, but it wasn’t until my mom started composting that we really saw a difference. We put the recyclables under the sink until it gets full and then we take it into the garage, I still take out the diapers every day, but the kitchen trash I take out about once a week and twice usually at most.

My mom has tried to compost before, but because our house and pretty much our city is low compared to surrounding areas, so most of the water drains to the town and then part of it makes it way to our yard. Because of that the food wouldn’t decompose like it has to in order to make the compost. I’m not sure what all she tried, but there was a variety of different things. The picture below is our solution.

I’ve been putting off writing this kind of thing before because I wanted to make sure that everything was going to work.

Yard and kitchen waste make up about 30% of the waste stream.Most of it from the kitchen was probably stuff that was bought and then wasted because it was never eaten. And that’s why composting is so beneficial. It takes that waste and creates something that is useful again. It’s the food version of recycling and it’s organic!

Composting is the decomposition of plant remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, dark, crumbly substance that enriching garden soil. It is the way to recycle your yard and kitchen wastes, and is a critical step in reducing the volume of garbage needlessly sent to landfills for disposal.

Composting is not a modern invention. In the natural world, composting is what happens as leaves pile up on the forest floor and begin to decay. Eventually, the rotting leaves are returned to the soil, where living roots can finish the recycling process by reclaiming the nutrients from the decomposed leaves. Composting may be at the root of agriculture as well. Some scientists have speculated that as early peoples dumped food wastes in piles near their camps, the wastes rotted and were terrific habitat for the seeds of any food plants that sprouted there. Perhaps people began to recognize that dump heaps were good places for food crops to grow, and began to put seeds there intentionally.

Compost does several things to benefit the soil that synthetic fertilizers cannot do. First, it adds organic matter, which improves the way water interacts with the soil. In sandy soils, compost acts as a sponge to help retain water in the soil that would otherwise drain down below the reach of plant roots (in this way, it protects plants against drought). In clay soils, compost helps to add porosity (tiny holes and passageways) to the soil, making it drain more quickly so that it doesn’t stay waterlogged and doesn’t dry out into a bricklike substance. Compost also inoculates the soil with vast numbers of beneficial microbes (bacteria, fungi, etc.) and the habitat that the microbes need to live. These microbes are able to extract nutrients from the mineral part of the soil and eventually pass the nutrients on to plants.

Good composting is a matter of providing the proper environmental conditions for microbial life. Compost is made by billions of microbes (fungi, bacteria, etc.) that digest the food you provide for them. If the pile is cool enough, worms, insects, and their relatives will help out the microbes. All of these will slowly make compost out of your yard and kitchen wastes under any conditions. However, like people, these living things need air, water, and food. If you maintain your pile to provide for their needs, they’ll happily turn your yard and kitchen wastes into compost much more quickly.

Keep in mind the following basic ideas while building your compost piles:

AIR

Composting microbes are aerobic — they can’t do their work well unless they are provided with air. Without air, anaerobic (non-air needing) microbes take over the pile. They do cause slow decomposition, but tend to smell like putrefying garbage. To avoid this, make sure there are plenty of air passage ways into your compost pile, use a mixture of ingredients that get slimy and mat down the pile such as grass or wet leaves and ones that don’t like straw which will help the pile breathe better.  Turning, completely breaking apart the mixture with a spade or another gardening utensil and then putting it back together, is also a good way to add air to your pile.

WATER

Ideally, your pile should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge to fit the needs of compost microbes. At this moisture level, there is a thin film of water coating every particle in the pile, making it very easy for microbes to live and disperse themselves throughout the pile. If your pile is drier than this, it won’t be very good microbial habitat, and composting will be slowed significantly. If your pile is a great deal wetter, the sodden ingredients will be so heavy that they will tend to mat down and exclude air from the pile, again slowing the composting process (and perhaps creating anaerobic odor problems). If you are using dry ingredients, such as autumn leaves or straw, you’ll need to moisten them as you add them to the pile. Kitchen fruit and vegetable wastes generally have plenty of moisture, as do fresh green grass clippings and garden thinnings. Watch out for far-too-soggy piles in wet climates (a tarp may help to keep rain off during wet weather). In dry climates, it may be necessary to water your pile occasionally to maintain proper moisture.

FOOD

In broad terms, there are two major kinds of food that composting microbes need.

‘Browns’ also known as carbons are dry and dead plant materials such as straw, dry brown weeds, autumn leaves, and wood chips or sawdust. These materials are mostly made of chemicals that are just long chains of sugar molecules linked together. As such, these items are a source of energy for the compost microbes. Because they tend to be dry, browns often need to be moistened before they are put into a compost system.

‘Greens’ (nitrogens) are fresh (and often green) plant materials such as green weeds from the garden, kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps, green leaves, coffee grounds and tea bags, fresh horse manure, etc. Compared to browns, greens have more nitrogen in them. Nitrogen is a critical element in amino acids and proteins, and can be thought of as a protein source for the billions of multiplying microbes.

A good mix of browns and greens is the best nutritional balance for the microbes. This mix also helps out with the aeration and amount of water in the pile. Browns, for instance, tend to be bulky and promote good aeration. Greens, on the other hand, are typically high in moisture, and balance out the dry nature of the browns.

OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER

If you live in a cold climate, your compost pile will probably go dormant in the winter. No problem — it’ll start back up again when the springtime thaw comes.

A common misunderstanding about compost piles is that they must be hot to be successful. This just isn’t true. If you have good aeration and moisture, and the proper ingredient mix, your pile will decompose just fine at temperatures of 50 degrees Farenheit or above. Hotter piles will decompose faster because it gives the microbes faster metabolisms.

For a pile to get hot and stay hot for a long period of time, the typical minimum size for the pile is one cubic meter (a cube one meter, or about three feet, on a side). A pile this size has plenty of mass in which those billions of heat-generating microbes can live, yet is also large enough that the center of the pile is well-insulated by the material surrounding it. Smaller piles just cannot insulate themselves well enough to remain hot for long, if at all. You can also provide additional insulation to a pile by stacking bales of hay or straw, or bags of dry autumn leaves, around your bin system.

There is no single point at which the compost is finished. What you’re looking for is for it be dark in color and has an earthy smell (like the smell of soil). Usually, it’s difficult to recognize any of the original ingredients, although bits of hard-to-decompose materials (such as straw) sometimes can be seen. If you plan to use compost in seed-starting mixes, though, you’re best off having a well-finished compost, because seedling roots may be attacked by decomposer microbes if the roots contact unfinished compost.

To make sure that you’re your compost is safe here are some things to avoid:

Chemically-treated wood products or sawdust from those products. For example, take pressure-treated wood (sometimes called CCA), which usually has a greenish, and sometimes other colors, tint to it. It contains arsenic, a highly toxic element, as well as chromium and copper. There is evidence to suggest that arsenic is leached into the soil from these products when they are used to make compost bins or raised beds, so composting the sawdust would certainly be a mistake. Avoid other chemically-treated wood products and sawdust as well, such as wood treated with creosote or ‘penta’ preservative.

Diseased plants. Many plant disease organisms are killed by consistent hot composting, but it’s difficult to make sure that every speck of the diseased material gets fully composted. It’s best not to compost diseased plant material at all, to avoid reinfecting next year’s garden.

Human feces. It can contain disease organisms that will make people very sick. Composting human feces safely requires that the compost pile reach high (thermophilic) temperatures over a period of time. It isn’t necessarily that difficult to reach these temperatures in a home compost pile, but the potential health costs of improper composting are high. Composting of human feces should not be attempted, except by experienced ‘hot pile’ composters who are well informed of the temperatures and times required to kill pathogens, and who are willing to take 100% responsibility for the process and product.

Meat, bones and fatty food wastes. These materials are very attractive to pests (in an urban setting, this could mean rats…). In addition, fatty food wastes can be very slow to break down, because the fat can exclude the air that composting microbes need to do their work.

Weeds. Morning glory/bindweed, sheep sorrel, ivy, several kinds of grasses, and some other plants can resprout from their roots and/or stems in the compost pile. Just when you thought you had them all chopped up, you’d actually helped them to multiply. Don’t compost these weeds unless they are completely dead and dry (you may want to leave them in a sunny place for a couple of weeks before composting). Remember also that composting weeds that have gone to seed will create weeds in next year’s garden, unless a very hot pile temperature can be maintained to kill the seeds.

Pet wastes. Dog and cat feces may carry diseases that can infect humans. It is best NEVER to use them in compost piles. Some people do bury them 8″ deep in the soil, but ONLY in areas where food crops are never grown.

There are a tremendous number of options for containing your compost. Some people choose to go binless, simply building a compost pile in a convenient spot on the ground. Others build bins from materials such as recycled pallets, or two-by-fours and plywood. And, of course, there are many commercial bins on the market.

You’re going to want to avoid treated lumber for the same reason you don’t want to put it into your compost pile. It contains arsenic, a highly toxic element (it also contains toxic levels of copper and chromium). There is evidence to suggest that arsenic will leach into your compost if you use CCA lumber in the bin. Unfortunately, many extension services and local governments actually recommend using this stuff for building compost bins.

A great variety of things can be composted at home, saving them from a one-way trip to the landfill, and turning them into a valuable soil amendment for home use.

There are a tremendous number of options for containing your compost. Some people choose to go binless, simply building a compost pile in a convenient spot on the ground. Others build bins from materials such as recycled pallets, or two-by-fours and plywood. And, of course, there are many commercial bins on the market.

The question arises, “Which system is best?” Each system has advantages and disadvantages that you should consider when making your choice. There are some very attractive and well-engineered commercial bins out there, as well as plans for excellent do-it-yourself models. But why not find out about all the options?

One Bin Systems:

A one bin system is the simplest way to make a compost pile, and is a great way to get started. If you plan to make a lot of compost, one bin may not be enough capacity, but adding another can be a simple matter. The basic idea of a one bin system is to make an enclosure for your bin that is at least three feet (or about one meter) across, although you may also choose to use no bin at all if you don’t need to keep everything tidy. Possible construction materials include free wooden pallets from local businesses, lumber, cinder blocks, or even steel posts and wire fencing. Once you’ve made your bin (or decided not to), you might build a pile all at once if you have the ingredients, but it’s more likely you’ll build the pile over time as you generate compostable materials.

If you build the pile over time, the stuff on the bottom will decompose first, since it will have been there the longest. When there is finished compost at the bottom of the bin, and you want to use it, simply remove the unfinished compost from on top, take out what you need, and throw the unfinished compost back on top. If your pile is not a high-temperature pile, you may want to let redworms (a kind of earthworm) help make the compost. They’ll make the process go more quickly, and can create a very high quality finished product.

Two Bin and Three Bin Systems:

These systems consist of two or three adjacent bins, and may be made out of the same materials as a one bin system. The advantage of having more than one bin is that one can have a bin for the pile being built (as ingredients are accumulated over a period of time) and another one (or more) for a pile already built that is in a more advanced stage of decomposition. If you have the space for such a system, and are generating or gathering enough materials to keep the bins in use, this can be very convenient. When you start using a system like this, build your pile in one of the bins. When this bin becomes full, ‘turn the pile’ by transfering it to the adjacent bin (a garden fork or similar tool will help). This will aerate the pile and hasten decomposition.

In a three bin system, you might start by building a pile in the leftmost bin. The original pile is turned into the middle bin when it’s time to begin building another pile, aerating it to accelerate the composting process. Another pile is then built in the leftmost bin. When that pile is completed, the old pile (which is now in the middle) is turned a final time into the rightmost bin for finishing, and the just-built pile is turned into the middle bin, making the leftmost bin available for yet another pile. Finished compost will eventually be removed from the rightmost bin.

Rotating or Tumbling Systems:

The cost of rotating or tumbling systems can be quite high, and they are somewhat small (they work for us and we have the leftover food of seven kids. We put about a 100 gallons of food into our first one), but these factors are balanced out by the speed at which drum/tumbler systems can generate finished compost. Under ideal circumstances, compost may be finished in three weeks in a rotating drum composter. Fill the container partly full with a mix of greens and moistened browns, and then give the unit a turn every day or so to aerate the ingredients and remix them. It’s important not to pack the container full, because the ingredients won’t tumble and mix if packed in tightly.

While one batch is composting, you can accumulate the materials for the next batch. When the first compost is finished, you can dump in the materials you’ve saved to make more. It’s possible to maintain relatively high temperatures in drum/tumbler systems even if they are small, both because the container acts as insulation and because the constant turning keeps the microbes aerated and active.

I mentioned our drainage problem earlier. Because our ground is so wet, this is the thing we have found to be successful so far.

Sheet or Trench Composting:

This may be the ideal system for people that have garden space who don’t want to fuss with bins and piles. Simply bury your kitchen wastes in a trench 8″ deep dug in the garden, leave the buried materials to rot for a few months, and then plant above them. By the time you plant, the materials will have rotted into stuff in which plant roots will thrive. If you have copious amounts of materials to get rid of all at once, such as autumn leaves, you might want to spread them around the garden and rototill them into the soil (this is best done in the late autumn, or at least 2 months in advance of planting in the area).

Commercially Available Bin Systems:

Commercially available bins are typically somewhat expensive compared to do-it-yourself bins, but they do keep your compost neatly enclosed and can provide an ‘instant solution’ to the question of how to set up a composting system. In performance, many of the plastic bins may help to insulate the compost somewhat, allowing decomposition to occur later into the cold season. However, I don’t feel that there are major advantages in the actual composting performance of commercial bins — they function more or less the same as a one bin system. A few brands seem to claim that they are able to harvest some kind of special cosmic energy or the power of the pyramids in assisting decomposition. Nonsense. They certainly can function just fine as compost bins, but there is no magic involved.

Many of the companies selling plastic bins manufacture them from recycled plastic. If you plan to get a pre-built plastic bin, keep your eyes open for ones made from reclaimed plastic — support recycling and businesses that sell recycled products!

http://www.composting101.com

Waste not, want not

Grist

Consider the extraordinary efforts we undertake to secure a barrel of oil. Lives lost from wars. Oil-rig blowouts. Cancer clusters downwind of refineries. 100,000 premature deaths each year in America alone when we combust the stuff in our engines. Consider the 28 million tons of plastic waste we send to landfills each year, essentially re-burying the oil in the earth, but this time in places that make it virtually impossible to recover. Then we repeat the process over and over again.

What if we could mitigate at least some of this madness by putting those waste plastics to productive uses? What about the other 140 million tons of other types of waste that we send to landfills each year? Bottom line — is a zero-waste society plausible and profitable, or just a pipe dream?

In 1989, California passed a law that mandated diversion of 50 percent of solid waste away…

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Treasure Hunting

Yesterday was a very busy day. My family got up 6:30 drove to our favorite dumpster spot at a university about 2 hours from our house. We met my mom’s friend and her husband there and we got down to business. It was graduation day, so many people were bustling about with family, saying goodbyes, cleaning out dorms, throwing things away… At first it wasn’t too bad, we were at some dumpsters that were kind of far away from the dorms that they were for. You could see people going back and forth; I think some saw us, but most of them weren’t even paying attention. We found two desk chairs, one was pretty nice, the other wasn’t bad. Both had a problem piece, but they both seemed fixable. We took one and Tracy, my mom’s friend, took one. We found some other stuff, too. I’ve lost track of the order, but we visited several and by the end of the day, both our cars were full. We ran into a couple of other ‘customers’ of the dumpster diving store. That was kind of funny, but one group was at one of our favorite dumpsters. Our other favorite (the one we found all the money in) was also occupied, but just by people hanging around, I think.

We found several textbooks, one not even out of its wrapper yet, some clothes, several plastic storage containers, notebooks, Ramen noodles, Chex mix, and other snack like items, one of those fancy binder things. Tracy and I had seen that dude coming and we were eying what he had in his bag. She said nearly ripped it out of his hands so she could see what was in it. I wasn’t that hardcore about it, but I definitely wanted to know what it was. We found a comforter (with no money, I’m pretty sure), a pillow, towels, a couple shower caddy things, a printer, two of those small vacuums, a couple of mops and brooms, a curling iron, a couple of dishes, a clock, and many other things.

People came and threw away things while we were digging around and really it wasn’t too bad. Some people were really starring, some were like…. And then some just went about their day. I only got in one dumpster, in front of people too, and that was to check out a microwave that turned out to be broken. There was a guy really watching that time. He didn’t seem appalled or anything, just curious, I guess, maybe.

We’ll probably be donating most of it, except for the school supplies and textbooks. The text books are all that we’ll probably be selling. It was a pretty good day. The end of spring semester is when you really want to go. People are officially moving out, so that’s when they throw out a bunch of stuff cause they’re lazy.

When I first started this blog, I said that it would be primarily about how and where to dumpster diving, but I have fallen fairly short of that goal. I would like to apologize. Usually the best I can find are boxes, coffee grounds and beer.  So sorry.

I’ll be going to this school in a couple of weeks and I’m hoping I can go on a regular basis. My parents and I have decided to start saving up some of the stuff that we find so I can use it for my house when I get one. If that’s not exciting, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, dumpster diving is super fun and I hope you try it before you miss out on all the great stuff being thrown out this time a year. Happy Diving!

Landfills: How They Affect the Air

To catch up read: how they affect our land and water.

Air

Landfill is the cheapest way of disposing MSW, but all efforts to get rid of waste pollute the environment to some extent. In landfills the disadvantages are that gases and chemicals are released into the air we breathe. Experiments show that the gases and chemicals released from landfill sites are harmful to animals which common sense would tell us, it’s harmful for us too.

Early landfills were put in convenient locations on the least expensive land. The waste was ‘out of sight out of mind.’ People did not realize that as the waste rots and decomposes, it can release toxic chemicals.

Bacteria
However, there is another problem with landfills, whether lined or not. Bacteria in the soil, break down organic matter in the landfill, such as vegetable peelings. As they do so, they release methane gas. Methane is not a poison, but it has two drawbacks. Firstly, it is a greenhouse gas. It contributes to the greenhouse effect that is causing global warming. Secondly it is explosive. If it seeps from the landfill and finds its way into a building, it can build up unnoticed.

Methane Collection System

Bacteria in the landfill break down the trash in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic) because the landfill is airtight. A byproduct of this anaerobic breakdown is landfill gas, which contains approximately 50 percent methane and 50 percent carbon dioxide with small amounts of nitrogen and oxygen. This presents a hazard because the methane can explode and/or burn. So, the landfill gas must be removed. To do this, a series of pipes are embedded within the landfill to collect the gas.

More recently, it has been recognized that this landfill gas represents a usable energy source. The methane can be extracted from the gas and used as fuel. The extraction system is a split system, meaning that methane gas can go to the boilers and/or the methane flares that burn the gas. The reason for the split system is that the landfill will increase its gas production over time and exceed the capacity of the boilers at the chemical company. Therefore, the excess gas will have to be burned. It is not cost-effective to compress the excess gas to liquid and sell it.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has endorsed landfill gas as an environmentally friendly energy resource that reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, such as coal and oil. Landfill gas-to-energy projects are most successful when partnered with mature MSW landfills, as opposed to new landfills or C&D landfills.

There are three basic types of landfill gas-to-energy facilities:

Electric – Landfill gas is used as a fuel to generate electricity at small power plants at the landfill, or at a nearby industry, with the generated electricity delivered to a utility company.

Alternative fuel – Landfill gas is piped to an industrial or commercial facility, where it is used for heating in place of, or in combination with, fossil fuels such as oil, coal or natural gas.

Processed gas – Landfill gas is processed and cleaned to natural gas quality and delivered to transmission pipelines, to be used in normal applications for natural gas.

http://www.interstatewaste.com/index.php/press-room/education/learn-about-landfills/

Landfill gas is still a problem. The Greenhouse Effect is caused by so called ‘greenhouse gases’ in the atmosphere. These gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor have existed naturally for millions of years. The amount of these gases has gradually increased, causing the earth to get warmer.

http://www.dldesign.connectfree.co.uk/quarry2.html

Landfill are a lot nastier than I had previously thought. I can’t believe that people think all this work is easier than just recycling. Recycling may be harder in the short run, but it seems like something that will save us a lot of problems and time in the long run.

Landfills: How they Affect the Water

Yesterday, I talked about the structure and parts of a landfill and how it affects the Earth. If you haven’t already, read to catch up. Today I’ll be talking about how it affects our water supply. And stay tuned because tomorrow, I’ll be talking about it affects our air supply. Read how landfills affect our air for more information.

Landfills and Groundwater

All sanitary landfills should have systems for collecting and monitoring groundwater to ensure against contamination. They also have systems for collecting leachate, a liquid that filters down through the landfill with rainwater and could contain harmful chemicals. The water can become acidic and eat into the waste of containers. The system for collecting groundwater and leachate does not breach the lining systems of the landfill.  Engineers line the quarry with clay or synthetic materials and the leachate cannot as easily pass through those materials. Pipes then collect the leachate for storage in tanks and special treatment. Old landfills do not have a leachate collecting system, so it flows to pollute and contaminate the drinking water in the ground.

http://www.dldesign.connectfree.co.uk/quarry2.html

Storm Water Drainage

It is important to keep the landfill as dry as possible to reduce the amount of leachate. This can be done in two ways:

  • Exclude liquids from the solid waste. Solid waste must be tested for liquids before entering the landfill. This is done by passing samples of the waste through standard paint filters. If no liquid comes through the sample after 10 minutes, then the trash is accepted into the landfill.
  • Keep rainwater out of the landfill. To exclude rainwater, the landfill has a storm drainage system. Plastic drainage pipes and storm liners collect water from areas of the landfill and channel it to drainage ditches surrounding the landfill’s base.

The ditches are either concrete or gravel-lined and carry water to collection ponds to the side of the landfill. In the collection ponds, suspended soil particles are allowed to settle and the water is tested for leachate chemicals. Once settling has occurred and the water has passed tests, it is then pumped or allowed to flow off-site.

Leachate Collection System

No system to exclude water from the landfill is perfect and water does get into the landfill. The water percolates through the cells and soil in the landfill much as water percolates through ground coffee in a drip coffee maker. As the water percolates through the trash, it picks up contaminants (organic and inorganic chemicals, metals, biological waste products of decomposition) just as water picks up coffee in the coffee maker. This water with the dissolved contaminants is called leachate and is typically acidic.

To collect leachate, perforated pipes run throughout the landfill. These pipes then drain into a leachate pipe, which carries leachate to a leachate collection pond. Leachate can be pumped to the collection pond or flow to it by gravity, as it does in the North Wake County Landfill.

The leachate in the pond is tested for acceptable levels of various chemicals (biological and chemical oxygen demands, organic chemicals, pH, calcium, magnesium, iron, sulfate and chloride) and allowed to settle. After testing, the leachate must be treated like any other sewage/wastewater; the treatment may occur on-site or off-site. Some landfills recirculate the leachate and later treat it. This method reduces the volume of leachate from the landfill, but increases the concentrations of contaminants in the leachate.

Occasionally, leachate may seep through weak point in the covering and come out on to the surface. It appears black and bubbly. Later, it will stain the ground red. Leachate seepages are promptly repaired by excavating the area around the seepage and filling it with well-compacted soil to divert the flow of leachate back into the landfill.

Groundwater Monitoring

At many points surrounding the landfill are groundwater monitoring stations. These are pipes that are sunk into the groundwater so water can be sampled and tested for the presence of leachate chemicals. The temperature of the groundwater is measured. Because the temperature rises when solid waste decomposes, an increase in groundwater temperature could indicate that leachate is seeping into the groundwater. Also, if the pH of the groundwater becomes acidic, that could indicate seeping leachate.

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/landfill9.htm

Ocean Pollution

Historically, the disposal of wastes into water by humans was universally practiced. It was a cheap and convenient way to rid society of food wastes (e.g., cleaned carcasses, shells, etc.), trash, mining wastes, and human wastes (or sewage). The advent of the Industrial Age brought with it the new problem of chemical wastes and by-products: These were also commonly disposed of in the water.

Around 267 species around the world are harmed by plastic, 44% of seabirds, 43% of ocean mammals, and 86% of sea turtles ingest or become tangled in plastic. http://www.savemyoceans.com/plastics.php

Marine debris is man made waste that is directly or indirectly disposed of in oceans, rivers, and other waterways.  Most trash reaches the seas via rivers, and 80% originates from landfills and other urban sources.  This waste, which is also consumed by fish and can entangle sharks and damage coral reefs, tends to accumulate in gyres (areas of slow spiraling water and low winds) and along coastlines.

There are 5 major ocean gyres worldwide.  In the Pacific Ocean, the North Pacific Gyre is home to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, a large area that is approximately the size of Texas with debris extending 20 feet (6 meters) down into the water column.  It’s

estimated that this “plastic island” contains 3.5 million tons of trash and could double in size in the next 5 years(I’ve heard the size is an exaggeration. I have not seen it myself so I’m not sure, but just so you know both sides. I will however point out that if all the pollution in the ocean came together, I’m sure there would be no need to exaggerate.)  Researchers have also estimated that for every 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of plankton in this area, there is 13.2 pounds (6 kilograms) of plastic.  Common marine debris items includes things like cigarette butts, cans, plastic bags and bottles, styrofoam, balloons, lighters, and toothbrushes.  Discarded or lost fishing gear such as lines, nets and buoys are especially dangerous to sea life.

Plastic bags seem to be death’s right hand man. They don’t biodegrade, break up and release toxins and chemicals into the environment. Sea turtles and other marine creatures mistake plastic and other garbage as food (like jellyfish) and ingest it. The plastic causes blockages within their digestive system and eventually death. If they don’t die from the blockage then we fish for them and those toxins end on our plates and in our bodies. According the EPA, Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags and wraps a year. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce this many bags. The world uses a trillion bags which uses 100 million barrels of oil. All our problems of fighting over oil could be dwindled down to just a few, if we would quit being so lazy and use reusable bags.

Coastal development is another problem that people have caused for the ocean environment. It is a broad category that includes an array of human activities including beachfront construction of homes, hotels, restaurants, and roads, often for tourism, beach renourishment, seawall construction, and near shore dredging and oil platform construction.  Half of the world’s population lives on or within 100 miles of a coastline and this number will likely increase dramatically in the next decade.  The human alteration of coastlines forces nesting females to use other beaches, changes the properties of nesting beaches, and contributes to the pollution of sea turtle habitat from runoff and wastewater discharge.

Increased coastal populations result in increased recreation and beach going vehicles. Objects left on beaches, like beach chairs, create obstacles for nesting females, sometimes resulting in failed nesting attempts.  Obstacles on beaches can also be hazards to hatchlings as they get trapped in depressions and are unable to make it to the ocean.  Seawall construction creates impenetrable barriers to nesting females and causes unnatural erosion of beaches.  Boats and personal watercraft are responsible for large numbers of sea turtle injuries and deaths.  As coastal populations increase, boating activities increase and collisions with sea turtles that must surface to breathe, are inevitable.

http://www.seeturtles.org/1128/ocean-plastic.html

So what can we do about it?

1. Get educated and share your knowledge!

2. Don’t pour oil, engine fluids, cleaners, or household chemicals down storm drains or sinks.

3. Find approved motor oil and household chemical recycling or disposal facilities near your home, and make sure your family and friends use them.

4. Use lawn, garden and farm chemicals sparingly and wisely. Before spreading chemicals or fertilizer, check the weather forecast for rain so they don’t wash away.

5. Repair automobile or boat engine leaks immediately.

6. Don’t litter- trash gets blown in the wind, and eventually will find its way to the ocean. If you find litter pick it up and recycle if you can.

7. The transportation to landfills and recycle centers isn’t always the most environmentally friendly practice. It uses a lot of gas, but also if the trash isn’t covered properly then it flies everywhere which leads to my last point, try to use as little packaging as possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables use less packaging. Use reusable plastic bags. By in bulk or the largest quantity and avoid small individual packages of any product or consumable greatly reduces the amount of paper or boxboard that you buy and throw away. Of course, don’t buy large quantities if the food would spoil before it is used.

8. Reuse any packaging that you can. Save plastic bags, newspapers, packing peanuts, other packing materials and reuse them as packing materials. Use boxes and big containers for storage, by real plates, cups and silverware instead of using plastic.