Why We Need to Sort Garbage

Why We Need to Sort Garbage

October 03, 2016

In the U.S., the average person generates about 7 pounds of trash every day and over a ton of trash every year.   The amount of garbage we generate has tripled since the 1960s but most of that trash doesn’t need to end up in the landfill.  In fact, some estimates show that 75% of trash is actually recyclable but to recycle, we need to sort that garbage.


Anything that goes into your garbage can usually ends up in the landfill.  There are more than 3,000 landfills in the U.S. and three times that many that have already filled up.  A landfill is an environmental hazard that can contaminate the water supply when chemicals from compressed trash, leach into the soil.  Landfills are also major producers of methane gas – a greenhouse gas that can be deadly when inhaled and presents a fire hazard or even a potential for explosion.  

Food waste

Up to 25% of the food in the U.S. is thrown away, uneaten.  Whether it is due to preparing too much or buying too much, we throw out 21.5 million tons of food every year.  A lot of that food – even if spoiled - is a lot better in the compost pile than it is in the garbage can.  You get great fertilizer and don’t take up space in the landfill.  Animal products can attract “critters” to your yard so compost anything that is plant-based.

Trashy world

Say the word “pollution” and what comes to mind?  Most people think more about the air and water than the most obvious type of pollution, trash.  Pollution from trash is a local eyesore but it can be a bigger hazard.  Trash clogs our water and sewer system, makes recreational areas unsafe and can be a hazard.  Some trash like plastic bags, yogurt cups and 6-pack holders can threaten and even kill wildlife, other types of trash can poison the water, and some is just not really trash.

Carbon footprint

In addition to the methane produced by the landfill, sorting your garbage reduces your carbon footprint by other ways.  Plastic won’t ever degrade in the landfill but many types can be recycled into durable goods such as playground equipment and artificial lumber which will save the petroleum needed to make that type of plastic.   Recycling materials like paper, reduces the fuel and electricity needed to harvest, transport and process the wood – paper can be recycled up to 4 times.  Recycling a single aluminum can saves more than 90% of the energy needed to make a new one from raw aluminum – and aluminum can be recycled indefinitely.


Dealing with trash is costly and many communities spend more on trash processing than they do on fire protection, parks and libraries.  Sorting your garbage helps reduce the amount of trash that needs processing.  It also helps to keep the trash where it belongs so it doesn’t end up as litter.  This can reduce the amount of money your community spends on garbage services and even litter collection.  Recycling may also allow your community to recoup some of that money when they sell the sorted recyclables.


Paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass all require raw materials to produce.  Paper comes from trees, aluminum must be mined and 10% of our oil goes to making plastic.  Recycling can save some of those resources but you have to sort the garbage properly.

Reduce, reuse, recycle.  If we sort garbage – we can do all three.