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Garbage: Top 10 Questions

May 2014

Thanks to Ted Hutchinson, Solid Waste Deputy Director, Ada County Solid Waste Management; and Megan Durrell, Trash and Recycling Coordinator, City of Boise Public Works Department for their answers.

1: How does garbage affect Earth's ecosystems?

The proper management of garbage is the key to not having an adverse impact on the ecosystem. The materials that are in garbage can cause pollution in our soil, water and air. Diseases that are in garbage can be carried by birds and bugs, and these diseases can adversely impact humans. Garbage is the end result of our purchasing practices. The impacts of what we buy and what we discard as garbage definitely have an effect on our environment during manufacturing and disposal. (From Indigo at Anser Charter School in Boise)

2: Why does garbage smell?

Garbage smells because of the decomposition process. Microbes and bacteria live on garbage. They consume garbage and the byproduct they produce tends to be odiferous. The fresh trash smell that we smell inside of our garbage cans has oxygen present as the organic materials decompose. Once the garbage is compacted and in a landfill, the oxygen is used up and the process will become anaerobic where the byproduct is landfill gas. This is a very unique smell and is rather pungent and not very pleasant. (From Riley at Hillcrest Elementary School in Boise)

3: Where does garbage go at the dump?

The garbage goes to the dump. It's brought to the dump in a variety of vehicles, like trash trucks that pick up trash from the neighborhoods and businesses. The garbage is taken to landfills where it is crushed and buried. The landfill where the Boise trash is taken is 85 feet deep. (From Jackie at Basin Elementary School in Idaho City)

4: Why do we separate trash and recyclables?

We separate trash from recycling to make it easy to identify what can be recycled and what cannot. It's like separating your laundry before you wash it. It makes the system more efficient if the recycling is put into one pile and the trash into another. It also helps you know how much of your trash is recyclable. This method of handling the trash is more efficient and more affordable for the trash and recycling services. (From Brooke at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

5: Is there any way to get rid of garbage other than putting it in a landfill?

There are a lot of alternatives. One of the best ways is to see if your waste is recyclable. It is really important to recycle paper because if it goes to a landfill, it can take decades to degrade. Also, if waste is not put into a landfill, it can be incinerated, meaning it is mass burned. In certain communities, gasification or plasma technologies are used. Differing methods are developing all the time. (From Francis at Anser Charter School in Boise)

6: How does garbage decompose in the ground?

Decomposition is a natural process. Microbes and bacteria on the trash consume the organic materials. Garbage is also subjected to oxidation, where metals rust. This is where the metals combine with oxygen, causing them to break down. Other chemical reactions in a landfill also occur that help to break down the material. However, decomposition is the primary means that garbage breaks down. (From Gabe at Riverside Elementary School in Boise)

7: Why does the garbage truck crush the garbage?

Garbage collected curbside from your home is put into a compacting truck and is crushed. This maximizes the space on the truck, making more room so more trash can be picked up with fewer trips to the dump. The more garbage they can pick up, the more efficient it is, resulting in less impact to the environment through air pollution. (From Brody at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

8: What does recycling do for our health and the health of our earth?

Recycling is a process of turning one product into something new and reusing it for a long, long time. It means not harvesting more trees and not mining more raw materials. It's about resource conservation. Recycling keeps materials out of the landfill, and because there are chemical processes that occur that can make products hazardous to our health, the less we have going to the landfills, the less impact we will have on our environment. (From Elise at Anser Charter School in Boise)

9: Why do we bury garbage?

We bury our garbage because we have to manage the material that we're throwing away. We don't want to leave it where the wind will blow it around or where animals can carry it off. We do need to make sure that we control where the material goes. It works best for our society to have one place where the trash goes. It's very cheap to put it in a landfill. Hopefully, overtime there will be new technology that will remove the necessity to put trash into a landfill. (From Isaac at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

10: How do garbage trucks get all of a city's garbage in one day?

Typically, we take a neighborhood and carve it like a pie with equal portions. Then, we make sure we have the right number of trucks and staff to cover a specific collection area. We don't pick up everything in one day. We divide it up and do about one fifth of a community on Monday, and another fifth on Tuesday, and so on. (From Kaylynn at Basin Elementary School in Idaho City)


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