By Colter Dye, Recycling Ambassador
Each day, 3.2 million pounds of trash are picked up from Salt Lake County residents and businesses. This waste is then taken to the Salt Lake Valley Landfill – 550 acres of land near the Great Salt Lake. Last month, the Recycling Ambassadors from the University of Utah (a team of campus volunteers) and I visited the landfill. It was an enlightening opportunity for us to learn about the operations and limitations of our landfill, and what happens to our trash after we discard it.
The first things we learned about the landfill was how it was made. The landfill starts simply with a hole. After the hole is dug, layers of compacted clay and a tough, thick plastic liner seal everything inside. Next, a drainage system collects leachate (think of this as garbage water), while another collection system captures methane gas rising from the leachate. The methane gas is transported to Murray City, where it powers 3,000 homes. The garbage is piled on top of these protective layers, then covered with another thick plastic layer, and buried in dirt.
The sanitary landfill was invented to serve as a protective barrier between the environment and the often hazardous waste held inside the landfill. It is a relatively new technology in the history of waste management. This system is effective enough to ensure the waters of Lee Kay Ponds, right across the street from the landfill, can support thousands of fish and birds.However, the space in a landfill is not infinite, and the Salt Lake Valley Landfill is set to be filled to capacity and closed by the year 2065. Perhaps by now you have spotted the errors in this system and are beginning to understand that it is not sustainable. Fortunately, every time you choose to reduce your consumption, refuse extra packaging, or recycle responsibly, you are keeping usable materials out of landfills. This can help keep our cities clean, protects our wild lands, saves valuable resources, and boosts the economy by creating jobs.
Here are five ways you can divert waste from the landfill:
- Separate materials, read labels.
Plastics containers are labeled with numbers 1-7 to indicate from which type of resin it is made. Separate materials, take lids and sleeves off of coffee cups, and be sure to check that you are placing items in the correct bin. If you are unsure about recycling certain items, check out this website.
- Pack it in, pack it out.
If you bring or purchase something on campus, which is not accepted in our bins, take it home with you and put it in your single stream recycling.
- Avoid contamination.
Paper products that are stained with food or drink are not recyclable and contaminate recyclable materials. Rinse bottles or cans and throw used napkins and grease-stained pizza boxes in the trash.
- Reduce Waste.
Avoid creating waste in the first place. Use reusable containers and bags rather than single-use items. Reusable shopping bags, water bottles, and sandwich bags are great starters.
- Become a Recycling Ambassador!
We are a volunteer team of students, faculty, and staff who promote recycling across campus. Find out more from the Sustainability Office.