Essays

Stinking Landfills and Stinking Capitalism

by David Sims

THE WORLD’S economic systems generate 2 billion metric tons of waste each year. The average density of landfill waste is 600 kilograms per cubic meter. A year’s worth of waste will therefore occupy 3.3333 cubic kilometers of volume.

If all this trash goes into landfills, and if the average depth of the world’s landfills is 50 feet, then the land area devoted to landfills will increase by 219 square kilometers per year. Every two years, an area the size of Brantley County, Georgia, USA gets used as a landfill. Every 11 years, an area the size of the state of Delaware gets used as a landfill.

How many years will it take to cover the entire land area of the Earth with waste?

At present rates, and counting only landfills, and assuming that we are willing to accept an Earth entirely covered by landfills, the answer is 650,000 years.

But when a landfill leaks toxins or stench into the outside environment, it can contaminate 10,000 times as much area as the landfill itself occupies.

And you know how capitalists are — always making false assurances about reliability and quality, et cetera, and cutting corners whenever they think that they can get away with it. Bribing a regulator or a judge costs ever so much less than doing things with a proper margin of safety. Landfills won’t be an exception to the general rule of how business actually gets done.

[So, assuming the very best behavior on the part of the capitalists — every assurance being valid, every promise being kept, and every regulation being both adequate and scrupulously obeyed, and assuming the “10,000 times as much area” estimate is correct — the amount of time before the mountains of waste ruin our quality of life is about 65 years. Perhaps we should seriously reconsider both our endless-growth-required economic system and our produce-and-consume industrialization of the teeming masses of the non-White world. — Ed.]

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