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American Waste Production: How To Keep Businesses Accountable

Americans generate 251 million tons of trash annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, in a 2006 report, its most recent study on food waste. Most of this waste comes from large corporations. So but how are industries then kept accountable? Food experts say there is growing awareness that governments around the world cannot effectively fight hunger, or climate change, without reducing food waste. Most of this waste comes from large corporations, waste is the byproduct of part of the process to producing productions, and it is time for investors and consumers to start holding these industries responsible for their environmental damage.

The EPA reported that our per capita trash disposal rate was 4.6 pounds per person per day with 35 percent coming from commercial areas. However, 55 percent of all garbage gets buried in landfills whereas only 33 percent gets recycled. And why is that? Well, according to National Geographic, solid waste is a big business raking up about $47 billion in annual revenue due to the hundreds of thousands of people employed by the National Solid Waste Management Association. “The Solid Waste Program encourages states to develop comprehensive plans to manage nonhazardous industrial solid waste and municipal solid waste, sets criteria for municipal solid waste landfills and other solid waste disposal facilities, and prohibits the open dumping of solid waste,.” according to the EPA.

In 1965, the Solid Waste Disposal Act was passed to promote better management of solid wastes and support resource recovery. But the EPA did not exist until 1970, meaning this act only influenced the U.S. (AP) Public Health Service enforcing regulations for solid waste collection, transportation, recycling, and disposal. This Act supported several areas of solid waste management through funding financial assistance for states to study and develop solid waste management plans as well as supporting research and development of improved methods of solid waste management. On the same note, the Resource Recovery Act of 1970 introduced the creation of the EPA and in 1973 they issued the final Report to Congress: Disposal of Hazardous Wastes. This was an important guidance document for the early stages of solid and hazardous waste management. Several other solid waste and resource recovery acts have since been passed, yet the industries and companies are still not being adequately held accountable.

It is estimated that over one-third of all the food produced in the United States ends up being thrown away with roughly over 10% of food waste coming from grocery stores. There are a variety of reasons as to why this could be but one theory is the overstocking of product displays. Many grocery stores operate under the assumption that customers are more likely to buy produce if it's from a fully stocked display. This leads to overstocking and in turn leads to throwing away bad food items that are not being properly stored during the display, in general, or sitting out for too long. Yet food waste are not the only contribution grocery stores make towards the global climate pollution.

Often, product packaging gets damaged during shipping, leading supermarkets to toss products due to a lack of aesthetic even though the food hasn't been compromised. Behind the food waste accumulation in the United States, paper, cardboard and plastic follow close in line. Many consumers buy too much food, throw it away too quickly, and pay little attention to waste. And while some businesses are attempting the route of “going green”, it can be a bit deceiving in the way that they are doing so.

The difference between a plastic being compostable and being biodegradable is not a difference often pondered upon by consumers. Biodegradable simply means will one day degrade: could be a few weeks from now or a few centuries from now. On the other hand, compostable means returning back to nature in a rather speedy fashion and the organic label is also subject to regulations set by the Department of Agriculture. Since the Federal Trade Commission guidelines prescribe some specific attributes, for a company to say a product is biodegradable, it must “completely break down and return to nature” within one year. This means a product headed towards a landfill, incinerators, or recycling facility does not count.

Well, how does this concern consumers? Knowing how you recycle and what you’re throwing into recycling matters. Just like saying that a product is green because it is made with recycled content is deceptive if the environmental costs of creating and using the recycled material exceed the benefits of using it. So how do we, consumer's,(why an apostrophe?) address this problem? Education on the terminology of waste products can immensely assist in the United States’ mission to reduce human waste from our climate pollution. Secondly, demanding the companies and brands we use to transfer to compostable options for an invested green-consumer to participate in. Even though the first step will always be the separation of trash on the individual’s behalf. Once this is completed, the accountability of businesses and industries are sure to follow.