April 22nd, 2009
05:00 PM ET

It’s Earth Day and we’re all trashed

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/22/art.dump2.jpg]
Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

I’ve got three wonderful kids between the ages of two and seven, but they make a mess. Okay, my wife and I also contribute, but we never collected this much garbage before we had kids.

I swear we end up filling our trash and recycle bins to the very top each and every day. I guess I never think of where all this garbage goes, I only try to do our part and make sure our paper, cans, bottles, etc. get to the bins where they’re supposed to be recycled. Sadly, for me, that’s where it ends. I feel like I’ve done my part.

A very good friend and colleague Bill Kirkos at CNN feels very differently. He took a year off from his paid newsgathering duties and studied the trash issue putting together an eye-opening documentary, “Trashed.” Most of us touch on an issue when covering stories, but get moved on to the next story so quickly that you hardly have the time you would like to dedicate yourself to the things that you cover.

Bill sunk his own money into his project and has since returned to the newsroom working as a freelance producer with us at CNN. Some of these figures from the EPA and other noted sources got him motivated to check out what’s going on after we dump our trash.

  • Americans make up only about 5 percent of earth’s total population, yet we generate about 25 percent of the world’s waste.
  • In 2000, the EPA established a link between global climate change and solid waste management. Since then, the amount of garbage each American produces every single day has risen to over 4 pounds a day.
  • 250 millions tons of garbage is produced every year in the U.S.
  • Almost 40% of all food produced in the U.S. gets wasted. That's why so many environmentalists believe composting could be one of the best ways to reduce the amount of garbage we throw out. Most food waste gets thrown into landfills. This is largely why landfills recently claimed the title of being the largest source of human-related methane in the United States. Methane is a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
  • According to the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in California, less than 4% of all plastics get recycled.
  • Trash is BIG business with 43 billion dollars in annual waste industry revenues.

So on this earth day, perhaps we can all do a little better at reducing some of our own trash.

For more information or education materials on this issue check out Bill Kirkos’ web site.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Ismael Estrada • Planet in Peril
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Mari

    Yesterday, on the Oprah Winfrey Show they showed the garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean that has grown to the size of Texas! We need our Oceans for our survival.

    There is a way to stop junk mail (its on the Oprah.com site). And I am BEGGING people.........

    PLEASE STOP USING PLASTIC BAGS!! Carry your own cloth ones! Its an EASY thing to do. If we would ALL do something, however small, it adds up.

    One statistic that was stunning, was that WE, throw out ...... 43 TONS of FOOD each day! Sad.

    Peace everyone & please...... remember NO plastic bags!

    April 23, 2009 at 12:03 pm |
  2. njay

    this would be a great dvd for teachers to have access to....yet at $149. plus a $10.s/h........too much $$ for a very humble teacher who makes meager wages.......can you imagine a cabinet member for education making it possible for every public school to show this dvd to every student in America? now thats empowering......

    small town in nm

    April 23, 2009 at 1:39 am |
  3. Melissa, Colorado

    Did you know that you could shred that junk mail and take the shredded pieces to a local pet shop to be used in the cages of cute lil' puppies? Hm...I don't know about poop-filled plastic bags or deep-sea exploration, but I DO know that baby wipes are evil and so are paper towels being used for cleaning. Cut up old rags, it's cheaper! Noggin says every little bit helps, so we're using shampoo bars and planting our own herbs.

    April 23, 2009 at 12:26 am |
  4. Dave of Detroit

    When you have a throw away society. there's a lot of trash. What can be done? Just as starters, teach people to be earth friendly-recycle, buy earth friendly products, get away from batteries-that's a real hoot, and try to get things that will last and appreciate rather than get tossed every 4 or 5 years. When is the last time you reupholstered instead of throwing the old furniture out and here's another shocker, a land phone is cheaper and can't be listened to without a wire tap authorization-not so your cellphone, text messages can be recorded and backlogged for years with the telcom provider. It would be great if products lasted for years a sthey used to but the emphasis of the business world is constant update trends that deliberately focus on making everything out of date so you will buy the new updated version.I don't think there is a cure -sorry!

    April 22, 2009 at 11:07 pm |
  5. Alicia, Texas

    I'm happy to see that methane is actually mentioned as a problem! Too often the focus of environmentalist messages or other adverts by the 'green movement' focuses on CO2, but the science backing up CO2 is weak compared to the evidence for the impact methane has on heat trapping.

    Recycling is brilliant! Composting is awesome! Growing up we always had a garden to grow our own veggies in and we composted left overs to re-feed our soil. It was neat! I loved to go out as a kid and get my hands dirty!

    I wish more conservation messages were given in a positive light instead of in some of the finger wagging and fear mongering we hear so much of. Yes, we have problems, but what's more important is showing HOW we can fix them and making those fixes desirable.

    Changing our culture will be difficult, but we're a great country and I think we're up to the challenge!

    April 22, 2009 at 6:55 pm |
  6. Don, WA

    I watched a documentary recently on deep sea exploration – they took a deep diving submersable to the bottom of one of the most remote spots on the planet deep beneath the ocean to see what they could find in terms of new deep sea life forms – and stumbled on a trash heap the size of a public dump, on the bottom of one of the deepest spots in the ocean. Plastics don't go away...they just settle in the earth. One day in the far future, if people are still here, scientists may term this chapter in history as "The Plastizine Era."

    April 22, 2009 at 6:49 pm |
  7. Reese Cup from Ohio

    okay...walking my dogs, then have to take out the plastic bag to pick up dog poop, but now can't recycle the plastic bag...isn't dog poop biodegradable? can't I just get a small shovel and bury the poop? would this contribute to saving the earth?...oh, and another thing, wash your baby's bottom instead of the wet wipes...every other country in the world does this.

    April 22, 2009 at 6:45 pm |
  8. Elle

    Sometimes it shocks me how wasteful my country is. There are a lot of Americans who have no problem tossing things out of car windows, letting plastic bags fall out of their cars, and so on and so on. One thing I learned from my family a long time ago was "Waste not want not." How much do we all want to live here on earth if we keep doing harmful things to it?

    April 22, 2009 at 6:36 pm |
  9. Rose Parvin

    Rose Assier Parvin's Universal Culture that is from her new pioneering Psychology of Health & Excellence teaches new Universal Patterns of Being Human reaching evolutionary excellence and change that not only brings you ultimate success but is also in harmoney with humanity and if learned universally we will no longer be alone in our being human feeling we live in a jungle and rat race as an outsider looking in when we are the ones who are truly human! When individuals learned to respect themselves and found who they are they no longer trash their own bodies nor their environments!

    April 22, 2009 at 6:27 pm |
  10. Annie Kate

    One thing that would help is the elimination of all the junk mail we get in the regular mail. That is half of everything we throw away each day. Even the environmental groups contribute to this as I get innumerable items in the mail each week for them even though I have requested they only contact me by email. Getting rid of junk mail would help reduce the rapidly growing size of the landfills. It won't solve it but it will help.

    April 22, 2009 at 6:22 pm |
  11. Terry, TX

    Yeah....and you left out in your criticism of us Americans... let's do something about cow farts, pig odor...fat people on this global...uh..global warming..uh... global cooling….global weather changes…uh melting icepacks….uh no…they’ve frozen back up now….well global warming by fat people…no global warming by cows farts….well…I guess I will just have to check with the environmentalist that sue the EPA and now runs them...I believe they have an office now

    April 22, 2009 at 6:11 pm |
  12. Heather from NJ

    Unfortunately America is very much a "throw away" society. Many people will not even change. Advertising and media are huge influences on the public and need to get the message in our faces everyday. Speaking of this...will CNN be airing the movie "Trashed"?

    April 22, 2009 at 6:07 pm |
  13. June Stone

    This is why recyling is key. One major positive is that there are a lot more biodegradeable containers and plastics made from plant materials being created. Now for science to come up with an eco friendly use for tbe rest of our waste.

    April 22, 2009 at 5:59 pm |
  14. GF, Los Angeles

    Something that's not addressed is the overpackaging of products to make it look better so it would sell better. All that packaging ends up in our landfills. I try my best to buy things that have the least amount of packaging which is very difficult. It's sad that American's make up 25% of the world's trash and even sadder that others want to emulate our lifestyle thus adding more to the problem.

    April 22, 2009 at 5:12 pm |