Utah’s Waste Problem

As I write this blog post I am sitting on a plastic chair, typing on plastic keys. Earlier, I ate food from a plastic tupperware, drank from a plastic Nalgene bottle, and ate an apple — after peeling off the plastic produce sticker. I listened to music with plastic headphones and looked at my phone, entirely covered by a plastic case.

Plastic has revolutionized the modern world. It has added convenience and efficiency to our lives and communities. It is a modern staple used by everyone. Plastic remains in huge demand, and it’s not going anywhere. Literally.

While plastic has transformed the world in many positive ways, it has resulted in one huge, unprecedented concern: what do we do with all the used plastic?

Plastics in landfills can take hundreds of years to decompose. Even then, the plastics only break down into minuscule microplastics, which have the potential to further pollute water sources and wildlife. If not put in landfills, plastics can be recycled or burned. Of course, more often than not, plastics instead enjoy beach front property, slowly filling up our beaches and oceans.

Most people are far removed from the entire life cycle of the plastic they use. They buy it. They use it. They throw it away. Being in a land-locked state with excellent trash collectors, it’s easy to not think about what happens to our plastic Diet Coke bottle. However, plastic waste management needs to be a pressing, shared concern by Utahns all over the state. If we fail to act now, we will regret it later.

Utah is expected to double in size by 2060 and will have nearly an additional one million people by 2030. This growth is exciting but also raises concerns about plastic waste management. Currently, landfills around Salt Lake City are expected to last only until 2065, but those predictions do not factor in increased consumption or increased population size. Our landfills may reach capacity much sooner than 2065. Even if they last until 2065, we will need to create more within the next forty years. We may not think or care about it now, but if we don’t change anything, we will have many, many landfills full of plastic for hundreds of years — a ‘precious’ heirloom for future generations.

If we want to make a better Utah, we must change our views on plastic through efforts of businesses, legislators, and individuals. Some Utah companies are making efforts to reduce waste, but our Utah legislators remain hesitant to impose limits on plastic use. While we wait for businesses and legislators to change, we as consumers must act now to make a change. It is time for individuals to reduce their personal use of plastic.

Our society has seemed to forgotten the old adage, ‘waste not, want not.’ Instead, we want a lot, and we consume a lot. Every living organism on this earth consumes something; it is, as we say, the circle of life. However, human innovation has created something that cannot naturally return to the earth. I am not opposed to consumption, but I am opposed to uncontrolled consumption of products that don’t have a natural place in our earth’s ecosystems.

We can all do more to be conscious of our plastic usage and waste. In reducing plastic waste, we need balance things our resources, capabilities, and convenience. Changing something so entrenched in will be hard and progress may be slow. The key, though, is to change something.

The infographic below highlights simple ways to reduce plastic use and waste. What do you think? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below!

By Laura Boyer

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