Trash Facts

by Esther Emery

Junk City is in.  We’ve spent these last two days transforming refuse into beauty.  Some of us sat in small circles, weaving VHS tape and unwanted CD’s into decoration for the Place of Naming.  Others (wo)manned the power tools, manipulating our piles of found objects into one stable, climbable sculpture.  We’re very proud.  Someone called it the most impressive pile of crap ever.
On that, I beg to differ.
Photo copyright to Maciej Dakowicz.
This is Stung Meanchey, the garbage dump city at Phnom Pehn, Cambodia, in the present day.  Just to clarify, that’s several trash-generating generations before the time of Liz Duffy Adams’ futuristic play.  The real life “trash people” who live and work at Stung Meanchey (many of them children) search the dump for plastics and cans that are then resold to wholesalers who ship them to Vietnam to be recycled.  On average they earn between $1-$2 a day.
This is a very cool and recent development in the lives of a few hundred of those children, who now have the opportunity to go to school, thanks to the compassion and bravery of Phymean Noun and her People Improvement Organization.
More trash facts
Every year, the United States generates approximately 230 million tons of “trash”–about 4.6 pounds per person per day. 
Currently, 32.5 percent of that trash is recovered and recycled or composted, 12.5 percent is burned at combustion facilities, and the remaining 55 percent is disposed of in landfills.
And here’s one you didn’t know.  The item taking up the most space in American landfills is…plain old paper.  According to the EPA:

Paper is many times more resistant to deterioration when compacted in a landfill than when it is in open contact with the atmosphere. Research by William Rathje, who runs the Garbage Project, has shown that, when excavated from a landfill, newspapers from the 1960s can be intact and readable.

That’s good news.  Paper is recyclable.  We can do something about that, and we are.  In 2006, 87.9% of newspapers were recycled.  Let’s make sure the future EPA doesn’t find any newspapers from 2008.