Why Should You Be Concerned About the Earth?
You should be concerned because we live here, and we depend on it for healthy food, fresh air, and clean water. We can't import any of our needs from another planet. Knowing this, we should all feel an obligation to care for and about it.
Just as a family that is blessed with a baby must nurture and care for it, so should we care for the earth and its bountiful riches with which God has blessed us.
What Does God Say?
God created the earth and deemed it to be good.
18 For thus says the LORD,
Who created the heavens,
Who is God,
Who formed the earth and made it,
Who has established it,
Who did not create it in vain,
Who formed it to be inhabited:
“ I am the LORD, and there is no other.” (NKJV)
The earth is one of many good and perfect gifts to us, according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
- Genesis 1:26-30
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”? 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
29 And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. 30 Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. (NKJV)
- Psalm 115:16
16 The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s;
But the earth He has given to the children of men. (NKJV)
- James 1:17
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (NKJV)
God wants us to take care of the earth.
- Genesis 2:5
5 before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; (NKJV)
- Genesis 2:15
15 Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. (NKJV)
The website for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has detailed information on construction, maintenance and regulation of landfills in the United States.4
Approximately 15 years ago, the United States Government mandated new regulations for new and existing landfills after evidence that toxins were leaking into drinking water reservoirs from leachate (the liquid from decaying garbage found in landfills).5 As a result of the new regulations, approximately 70 percent of landfills closed due to the dramatic rise in operating expenses and costs to bring landfills up to code.6 There were 1,754 reported landfills in the United States in 2007. 7 Prior to the regulations taking effect, the government did not require the landfills that closed to test for contamination or institute measures to protect the surrounding areas from leachate in the future.8 The landfills were allowed to close and leave the waste that had been collected as it was.
Today, landfills are designed to protect the public and the environment from contaminates that are present in leachate and the production of methane gases that are produced from municipal solid waste (trash or garbage). 9 Impermeable composite liners are required to line the bottom and sides of the landfill to prevent the leachate from entering the environment. 10 Regulations mandate that landfills routinely test leachate. If it is found to be toxic, leachate is treated and disposed of in the same fashion as raw sewage. 11 It costs approximately 1 million dollars to open or close a landfills. 12 This is the very reason why the cost of garbage collection is sky rocketing for homeowners.
Since Texas still has an abundance of open land, the approximate cost of landfill disposal is $26 per ton. 13 The largest landfill in the United States is the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, New York. 14 It can be seen with the naked eye from space. 15 It is taller than the Statue of Liberty and had to be reopened temporarily after the 9/11 attacks. 16 The most modern landfill is the Kiefer Landfill in Sacremento, California, which captures and uses methane gases from the landfill to generate electricity that dries almonds. 17 The municipal solid waste is compacted and surrounded with foam for added protection for the environment. 18
Not withstanding all of the stringent regulations, water contamination from landfill leachate is still a common concern in the United States. 19 Liner failure is a major consideration in landfill maintenance because there are many things that can compromise and/or puncture the liners, causing them to leak fluid. 20 Also, landfills are more likely to be located in low-income neighborhoods, which may result in increased health risks to the residents and lower home values. 21
According to an EPA report, U.S. citizens discard 4.26 pounds of municipal solid waste per person per day. 22 Texans throw away 7.5 pounds per person per day. 23
Do we have to give up our modern conveniences to address the garbage disposal problem? The answer seems to be no. West German, French and Italian citizens have the same convenience and technological benefits that U.S. citizens enjoy but only produce about half as much garbage. 24
The Problem with Traditional Recycling Programs
We have been told for years that the solution for reducing the amount of garbage collected each year is to concentrate on recycling plastic and aluminum waste. If this is true, why is the cost of garbage removal and need for landfill space increasing in the United States?
In 1991, the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission conducted a study on waste stream composition in Texas. The study showed that plastic, metal, and glass together only comprised of 21 percent of garbage collected before recycling in Texas. 25 The largest component of garbage was paper (41%), then yard trimmings (14.7%), and finally, food scraps (10%), which are all organic materials which can be recycled. 26 Only 13.1 percent of garbage was classified as “other” materials. 27
Not much has changed regarding the composition of waste since the study in Texas. In their 2007 report, 28 the EPA concluded the U.S. waste stream composition before recycling was as follows:
• Paper and cardboard – 32.7%
• Yard trimmings – 12.8%
• Food scraps – 12.5%
• Plastics – 12.1%
• Metals – 8.2%
• Rubber, leather and textiles – 7.6%
• Wood – 5.6%
• Glass – 5.3%
• Other – 3.2%
The good news is that there has been a substantial shift over the past 15 years to focus more on recycling paper and cardboard. However, the U.S. is still only recovering approximately 54.5% of paper and paper products that are in the waste stream. 29 The numbers are even worse when it comes to glass (23.7%), metals (34.8%) and plastics (6.8%).30
What does all this mean? Traditional recycling programs are a money drain because we dedicated most of our conservation resources and energy on a small percentage of the problem. Moreover, we are still doing a marginal job in the recovery of organic items from municipal solid waste when we could recycle more than 70% of what ends up in landfills.
So, what is the answer? Some environmentally conscious groups think that we should have a punitive tax on garbage collection for those people and businesses that resist recycling to encourage compliance. The concern with this approach is the cost and implementation of monitoring what people throw out in their garbage.
Others believe that education and awareness concerning the impact of our waste management system on the environment and our physical health should be the primary approach. Former Vice President Al Gore has shown that a strong educational program is impactful. But does it take celebrity like Sting or Leonardo DeCaprio to capture the public’s attention? Perhaps it would be useful to have more substantive and frequent dialog on this issue.
The True Impact of Plastic Bottles and Bags on the Environment
The manufacturing and recycling of plastic bottles are a major draw on oil resources, a non-renewable and expensive energy source. Almost all plastics are made from petroleum. 31 Americans only recycled 16.9% of all plastic products consumed in the U.S. in 2007. 32 Most plastic bottles are #1 plastic (PETE or polyethylene terephthalate), which is very versatile and valuable for recycling. 33 In 2006, 17 million barrels of oil were consumed to produce plastic bottles. 34 This figure does not take into account the oil used to transport the bottles. 35
There must be a heightened awareness about the impact of plastic bottles on the environment. There are some helpful facts about bottled water from Earth 911.36 The most striking fact is that 90% of the cost of bottled water is from the manufacturing the bottle itself, the lid and label. 37 Eight out of 10 bottles end up in landfills. 38 Bottles can last for 1,000 years before they start to breakdown after they are buried in landfills. 39
However, as mentioned earlier, #1 plastic is versatile and has many recycled uses, such as luggage, food and beverage containers, film, clothing and carpet. 40 There must be more of an effort to find profitable industries for recycled plastics. One way to do that is to educate the citizenry to increase demand for the products made from recycled materials.
Plastic bags pose a bigger hazard to the environment because of the shear number bags produced each year and the challenges to recycle them. There are approximately 500 billion bags used worldwide and roughly 100 billion are used in the United States. 41 Most plastic bags are either #2 plastic (HDPE or high density polyethylene) or #4 plastic (LDPE or low density polyethylene). 42 Common recycled uses for #2 plastics are plastic lumber, floor tiles, shampoo and conditioner containers, pipes, buckets and crates, while #4 plastics are converted to trash cans, shipping envelopes, and film. 43
Only a small percentage of plastic bags are recycled because of the cost. Unlike plastic bottles, plastic bags are light weight which frequently cause them to jam machinery during the recycling process. 44 They are so widely used and easily discarded, that many plastic bags find their way to into storm drains, sewer systems, waterways and eventually to the sea, where they pose a danger to sea life. 45 It is commonplace for marine mammals to mistake plastic bags for food and if caught over their mouths, they are subsequently suffocated or if swallowed, they slowly starve from intestinal blockage. 46 Approximately 100,000 marine mammals die each year from eating plastic bags. 47 Plastic bags are carried by the wind into our neighborhoods, forests, lakes and other waterways. 48 As plastic bags breakdown, they release toxins that leach into the soil, and affect our clean water supply and food chain from animals who ingest small particles of plastic. 49
Just consider how many times you have seen plastic bags tangled in a fence, tree limbs or a bush and you will begin to appreciate the scope of the problem.
So the answer is the new “biodegradable” plastic bags, right? Well, there are petro-based biodegradable bags that breakdown in about 3 years (as oppose to hundreds of years for traditional plastic bags), that cause measurable amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas, to be released into the atmosphere. 50 There are also “plastic” bags made from corn which breakdown quickly and do not emit anymore methane gas than other corn products in landfills. 51 However, they are not widely used because of the higher manufacturing costs. 52
One More Note on Recycling
Recycled Materials Industry
According to the Department of Ecology for Washington State, the recycled material industry operates at a distinct disadvantage to the virgin material industry for three reasons. First, the waste collection and disposal industry have "below market" loans, leasing policies and insurance available to them that the recovery material industry does not. 53 Second, the true costs of waste collection and disposal are often hidden or under estimated because factors such as regulatory oversight, long-term monitoring and clean-up costs are not considered, which makes it appear to be a much more cost effective option than recycling materials. 54 Finally, there is virtually no incentive for manufacturers to make products that are recyclable, use recycled materials or use less packaging because there is very little, if any, accountability for the “end of life” impacts for their products. 55
Moreover, many items Americans believe are being sent for recycling are ultimately ending up in landfills or exported to Asia, where environmental laws are lax and enforcement is minimal. 56 Recycled materials have not yet found a viable and robust market. 57 Therefore, many items that were intended to be recycled end up in landfills. 58 In Washington State, one industry sent lead compounds to California for recycling. 59 The California facility subsequently reported that the toxic lead compounds were sent to the landfill. 60
A regional example of this problem can be seen in Dallas, Texas. The city council is considering a substantial garbage collection rate hike for businesses and residents because the monthly income paid to the city for recycled materials is down from approximately $230,000 in September of 2008 to just over $50,000 as of April of 2009. 61 Dallas is able to continue to move or store recycled products at this time, but a 25 percent rate hike maybe necessary to make up the difference in loss of revenue if the market does not pick-up soon. 62
Even more offensive is the practice of sending electronic materials to Asia for disposal. It is expensive to recycle electronic materials with toxic components in countries that have stringent environmental and health regulations. 63 In China, it has been documented that “recycling” electronic materials consisted of burning plastics in an open area and dumping acids and materials without adequate protection for the air, soil and water supply. 64
Paper Recycling – The Self-Adhesive Problem
There is little dispute that reducing paper use and recycling paper products is beneficial for the environment. What is not widely known is the problem with paper products that contain pressure sensitive adhesives (PSA), better know as self-adhesive products. PSAs are adhesives that do not require moisture to activate there adhesive properties. 65 Some popular self-adhesive products are sticky notes, postal stamps, envelopes and address labels.
When paper is recycled, water is used to convert paper into “pulp” and then back to a new paper product. 66 Since PSAs are not water soluble, it does not breakdown properly in the recycling process and often becomes lodged in the machinery. 67 The United States Postal service is one of the largest users of PSA products, comprising of 14% of consumption in the United States. 68
The recycling and environmental communities need to increase their efforts to educate the public on this problem and suggest alternatives to PSA products that are cost effective and require little change for most office business practices.
Maintaining Your Landscape May Cost You More Than You Think
The synthetic chemicals used to fertilize lawns and gardens in neighborhoods across America may be a source of groundwater contamination. 69 The primary nutrients that promote plant growth in fertilizers are nitrogen and phosphorus. 70 Nitrogen is naturally found in soil, but when it is converted to nitrates for absorption in plant material, it becomes water soluble and mobile in soil. 71 Phosphorus is found naturally in rocks and other mineral deposits and is usually not very soluble until it is applied to soil as fertilizer. 72
Often times, too much fertilizer is applied to the soil, which results in the excess nitrates leaching through the soil into the groundwater. 73 Many homeowners excessively water their landscapes after fertilizer has been applied, which causes the nitrates to be washed into the soil. 74 The overuse of fertilizers is especially dangerous in urban areas because rainwater runs off of paved surfaces and enters the water supply without the benefit of soil filtering out much of the harmful elements. 75 Excess amounts of phosphates are particularly detrimental to the surface water supply because of a process called eutrophication. The phosphates cause algal blooms to grow, turns the water green and depletes the water of oxygen, which smother fish and other aquatic species. 76
The Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University sent eight students to teach farmers in Ghana about the proper use of fertilizers used for farming. 77 The farmers living in rural villages use groundwater for drinking and other domestic uses. 78 Water that contains more than 10 parts per million of nitrates can cause a condition in infants known as methemoglobinemia, where they are unable to absorb oxygen properly. 79 The excessive nitrates in the soil in Ghana were leaching into the groundwater and causing convulsions in newborn babies. 80 The water that was tested in the villages was 4 times higher than the recommended safety limits for nitrates by the World Health Organization. 81
Groundwater can also be contaminated by the overuse of organic fertilizers that will leach through the soil and cause the same health concerns for humans and the environment. 82 Since groundwater is slow moving, it may take decades for hazardous chemicals to be naturally diluted or removed from the water supply that we all rely on to provide us with life sustaining drinking water. 83