Where Does Your Trash Really Go?

Every Tuesday morning, I grab my coffee and my lunch bag before I head to work and I throw a purple bag of trash into our trash bin and leave it on the side of the road. With our 1-2 containers of recycling, of course. I would rather not produce trash at all, but we’re honestly just not there yet as a family and we have more to work on. However, the more I hear of recycling centers closing their doors in New Hampshire, the more I wonder where our trash/recycling goes and how much damage we are doing. Is my recycling really getting recycled? Will our recycling center close down soon too? Does the trash go to a landfill, or is it getting burned in a safe way as a coworker confidently told me? I wasn’t so sure of any of this and I knew I had to get to the bottom of it – good or bad.

Photo by Zhang Kenny on Unsplash

After doing a little bit of research, I have come up with a few findings (Source: Concord Monitor):

  • The state has three private landfills that will take trash from anywhere.
  • These landfills are located in Bethlehem, Rochester, and Success.
  • We also have three limited service landfills in Conway, Nashua, and Lebanon that do not take trash from everywhere.
  • Lastly, I was happy to read that we have a  Wheelabrator Incinerator right here in Concord which creates clean energy from post-recycled waste.

As of 2019, these landfills only had about 2-8 years left of capacity and this is simply not enough. On top of that, other states ship their trash to our landfills because it’s cheaper here. I imagine we would get a cut back from that, but I wonder if that’s worth taking on the additional waste. I think back to China in 2018 – they realized that it no longer made sense to import our recycling, so we are now left wondering what to do with it. We are also left with recycling prices going sky high and many centers closing as a result of this. As a result of these changes, many NH residents were speaking out and trying to figure what to do. The short answer should be less waste disposed of by each resident, but it’s not always that easy. Instead, a committee was created to study Recycling Streams and Solid Waste Management in NH. It was made up of three state representatives as well as Senator David Watters of Dover. They took testimonials of individuals and businesses and ended up with a recommendation for the state to create a measurable goal (find the 2019 report here). This was in comparison to the goal created in 1990 which was to prevent 40% of the waste generated in the state from going to landfills by the year 2000. The only problem with this goal was that no one had been measuring the waste that was accumulated in the first place.

So, our landfills are filling up, and we are taking more trash from other states? This wasn’t making any sense to me at first, so here’s the deal. Legally, New Hampshire cannot discriminate against out-of-state trash, yet we almost welcome it. We do this because we are the only state in the area that does not charge an extra per ton disposal fee. This means that it is cheaper for other states to bring their trash to us rather than keeping it in their own state. This is a fee that could be used to better help deal with the waste and find alternative solutions. On top of this, many surrounding states have disposal bans on their landfills which means that certain types of waste are not allowed. NH landfills do not have this which, I imagine, only makes our landfills even more attractive to others.

Creating new landfills is not an easy task nor is it a smart answer for the environment or for the surrounding communities whose resources could be affected by chemicals that leach into the waterways. I believe I used to drive by a landfill as a kid semi-regularly, but that memory is a bit hazy and I wonder if it was just a sandpit. But, I digress. I am picturing a giant mound of smelly purple trash bags and paper blowing in the wind – a sad sight really.

So what now? What is New Hampshire doing to change this? Is there anything we can do?

Programs like Concord’s Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) program can be a great option, but this is not always popular. I must admit that when I first moved to Concord I found the idea of the purple bags very annoying and inconvenient. However, once I learned the reasoning for the purple bags, I was on board! Reusing and composting are going to be two big ones and easily two of the most important. Be purposeful about what you bring into your home. Think about a jar of pickles every time you make a purchase. If you are going to buy pickles, make sure that you buy them in a glass jar. When the pickles are finished, reuse the glass jar for as long as you can. When you are finished with it, then it is time to recycle it. It may not always be easy or convenient, but the less waste we bring into our home and the more items we reuse – the better for everyone.

What do you and your family do to create less waste? Can you commit to a New Years resolution that will reduce your waste? I’d love to hear about all of your tips and tricks to get the family on board with waste reduction.

Let’s do it together!

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