Waste is directly linked to human development, both technological and social. The compositions of different wastes have varied over time and location, with industrial development and innovation being directly linked to waste materials. Waste is sometimes a subjective concept, because items that some people discard may have value to others. Americans generate more trash than anyone else on the planet: more than 7 pounds per person each day. About 69 percent of that trash goes immediately into landfills. And most landfill trash is made up of containers and packaging — almost all of which should be recycled, says Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes.
"It's instant trash," he says. "We pay for this stuff, and it goes right into the waste bin, and we're not capturing it the way our recycling programs are intending us to capture it. We're just sticking it in the ground and building mountains out of it."
Humes' new book Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash follows the journey that trash takes as it makes its way from garbage containers through landfills, sanitation plants and scrap heaps. He tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that because much of our trash is immediately hidden from our daily lives, it's easier for us to be wasteful.
Humes' investigation into garbage's journey around the Earth didn't stop on land. He also met with scientists who study the 5 massive gyres of trash particles swirling around in the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Created by the convergence of ocean currents and wind, the gyres contain masses of litter that aren't entirely visible by the human eye.
"What we're actually seeing in the ocean is this kind of chowder of plastic — these tiny particles that are the size of plankton," he says. "It's plastic that has been weathered and broken down by the elements into these little bits, and it's getting into the food chain."
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N to 42°N. The patch extends over an indeterminate area, with estimates ranging very widely depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area.
The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. Despite its size and density, the patch is not visible from satellite photography, since it consists primarily of suspended particulates in the upper water column. Since plastics break down to even smaller polymers, concentrations of submerged particles are not visible from space, nor do they appear as a continuous debris field. Instead, the patch is defined as an area in which the mass of plastic debris in the upper water column is significantly higher than average.
For further information see NPR
Landfill image viaWikipedia