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Almost 30% of New York City's trash ends up in landfills in the Finger Lakes.  Between two and three million tons of trash comes to the Finger Lakes every year.  Residents here have protested the infestation of downstate trash, and at the same time are trying to stop a proposed garbage incinerator in Seneca County.  At the same time, the Tompkins County Department of Recycling and Materials Management has announced that they cannot accept several kinds of plastic at curbside recycling because there is no market for it.

So we don't want other people's garbage, and we want other people to take ours and make stuff out of it.  That doesn't sound reasonable at first, but it actually is.  Areas of natural beauty like the Finger Lakes need to be protected, or there won't be any areas of natural beauty.  It doesn't make sense to muck them up.  The United States is such a big country that there are surely large tracts of land that nobody cares about that would be perfect national wastebaskets.

Ten years ago the Fredrick News-Post published an article proposing the Grand Canyon would make the perfect national dump site.  The author argued that it would revitalize the railroad industry, relieve local governments from the expanse of establishing landfills, and free the rest of the country from environmental damage, and said that it would take thousands of years to fill the Grand canyon so tourists could continue to enjoy it.  He didn't talk about what happens once it's filled -- I suppose it would become a tourist attraction as the largest landfill in the world, much like those roadside tourist stops that tout such attractions as the largest ball of string, or Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Art Museum in San Antonio, or Leila's Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri, or the World's Largest Chest of Drawers -- 32 feet high! -- in high Point, North Carolina.

That article may have been tongue in cheek, or perhaps not.  That is a radical solution to the recycling problem, but his arguments aren't garbage.  It makes sense.  Except the part about filling up the Grand Canyon.  I once calculated that it would take 1,139,250 trillion jelly beans to fill up the Grand Canyon.  If you were going to fill up the Grand Canyon with something, wouldn't you rather it were jelly beans than trash? 

Meanwhile the Grand Canyon it touting 'huge environmental strides' with an aggressive recycling program.  But whether it's a national park in Arizona or a bunch of lakes that look like a hand, recycling programs are going to have to face the fact that China doesn't want our trash any more than we do.  In 2018 the world's fourth largest country -- China is 9.6 million square kilometers.  Third is the United States with 9.63 million square kilometers, then Canada with 9.984 million square kilometers, and the largest is Russia with a whopping 17.1 million square kilometers -- enacted the 'National Sword' policy, which banned the import of most kinds of plastics.  China's recycling facilities had been accepting almost half the recycled materials from the rest of the world.

The problem was the rest of the world wasn't sorting its recycling adequately, and China was left with tons of unusable stuff, which, as you can imagine, caused a landfill problem there.  China now only accepts recyclables that meet a 99.5 percent purity standard.  That is a high bar.

According to a Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies report only 9 percent of plastics had been recycled even before China's ban.  Now even more of the stuff is ending up in landfills.  So recycling was never overwhelmingly effective, and it is even less so now.

Maybe that wacky idea about throwing it all in the Grand Canyon is looking less wacky.  I would suggest finding another big canyon that nobody cares about.  One that isn't so grand, but still big enough to safely hold all this junk until someone discovers a way to use it for rocket fuel, or to send it to Venus or Mars, which alternate as Earth's closest planets as they reach different points in their orbits.

That brings up the issue of space junk.  A Wikipedia article reports "As of January 2019, more than 128 million bits of debris smaller than 1 cm (0.4 in), about 900,000 pieces of debris 1–10 cm, and around 34,000 of pieces larger than 10 cm were estimated to be in orbit around the Earth."  Every so often you see an article about how space junk is a hazard to the International Space Station and the various space ships Earthlings send up there.

The bottom line is that the problem of recyclables that can't be recycled has been obscured by 'feel good' programs where people are required to recycle and told they are saving the world by doing so.  If the theory of recycling could be brought up to the standard of the myth we could save the planet.  Until then it is time to think long and hard and come up with an actual solution of how we can make an actual dent in the problem of world waste.

Maybe we can form a think-tank deep enough to hold all that plastic.

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