Science, Trashed

Jul 17th, 2008 | By | Category: Dear Science Column

What happens to biodegradable trash in a landfill?

Entombed deeply in a landfill, your biodegradable trash is forced to degrade without oxygen, creating copious amounts of methane gas. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, far worse than carbon dioxide. If you’re sending something to a landfill, it’s better for the planet if it never degrades.

A landfill is intended to be a place without time, where trash is meant to stay isolated from the surrounding air, water, and soil—somewhat like the Republican plan for America, through immigration reform (a completely sealed USA). Degrading isn’t in the plan; it happens anyway, just in a different way.

When shopping, I’m always astonished to find packaging or products loudly proclaiming their biodegradability. For some products, like anything that goes down the drain, this can really matter. Take detergents and soaps, for example. The better they biodegrade, the happier you make your sewage treatment plant.

But non-recyclable packaging boasting it’s biodegradability? Not so hot. About the only circumstance this really helps is with litter.

In the triad, it’s reduce, reuse and then recycle. Buy less crap. For every bag of garbage you put on the curb, several bags of industrial waste have already been landfilled making the crap you’re now throwing out.