There are more than 3,000 active landfills and 72 active waste incinerators in the United States alone, posing numerous threats to the environment. As organic matter in landfills decomposes, it releases methane and other greenhouse gases, accelerating global warming. Landfills contaminate nearby lakes, rivers, and oceans, harming underwater ecosystems by creating “dead zones” with little oxygen. Additionally, their construction often destroys what were previously healthy habitats; across the country, over 18 million acres of natural ecosystems have been lost.
Waste incineration carries a heavy human cost. These sites present noise and odor hazards and decrease home values. They are proven to cause negative health outcomes for the people living nearby, such as increased rates of asthma. These harms aren’t evenly distributed across the country. Whiter and wealthier communities have had access to the political and economic resources to oppose the construction of incinerators in their neighborhoods, while many low-income communities of color have not. The placement of both landfills and incinerators is an environmental justice issue, as they are disproportionately located in disadvantaged communities, harming the most vulnerable. Our garbage is incinerated at Covanta’s Essex County Incinerator, responsible for pollution and environmental harm in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood.
Luckily, there’s a lot we can do now to waste less and protect our environment at every scale, helping to stop global warming and win environmental justice for the New Jersey neighborhoods that suffer from our waste disposal. The “Zero Waste Hierarchy” above shows the different ways to eliminate garbage. Those on top are the most sustainable, and those on the bottom the least. At the top, we see rethinking: purchasing products that have been produced sustainably and avoiding unnecessary consumption. Next, we find reducing your use of waste-heavy items like single-use plastics, and reusing some products multiple times before before throwing them away. Consider visiting Montclair’s own Good Bottle Refill Shop, where you can buy many home products and eliminate plastic waste by returning empty containers.
However, the first three methods just aren’t feasible for everything that we buy and use each day. For items that you have to discard, the next-best options are recycling and composting. Montclair Township runs great programs for both of these initiatives, so click below to learn more and discover how you can help take garbage out of the incinerator.