As we usher in a new year with the holidays behind us, for many of us, we celebrated, gave gifts and received gifts…in a nutshell; we bought a lot of stuff.  In the United States we are consumers to the core, but we are not alone in this world as most developed countries follow our lead with respect to the buy, buy and buy some more mentality.

Having a chance to look back and reflect on the year behind us, some startling facts have recently emerged as to how we manage what we purchase, and what we do with it when we are done with it.  I will start with the latter and work my way back.  The top 10 recycling countries in the world as follows based on the percentage of waste that is recycled:

1. Switzerland – 52%

2. Austria – 49.7%

3. Sweden – 48%

4. Finland – 47.7%

5. Germany – 47%

6. Netherlands – 46%

7. Japan – 42%

8. USA – 31.5%

9. France – 31%

10. Norway – 30%

For those in the top 10 I would have said great job…but…9 of the top 10 recycling countries are also in the top 15 countries that produce the most trash, so it is sort of a double-edged sword.  Here is where it gets a bit ugly, a list of the top 10 countries that produce the most trash per person each year:

1. Denmark – 1232 pounds

2. Netherlands – 1166 pounds

3. United Kingdom – 1056 pounds

4. USA – 1012 pounds

5. Switzerland – 990 pounds

6. Belgium – 990  pounds

7. Australia – 880 pounds

8. Austria – 836 pounds

9. New Zealand – 836 pounds

10. France – 792 pounds

As most of us who will be reading this live in the United States I will focus on our country and try to put these numbers in a bit of perspective.  We produce, and this is a conservative number, more than a half a ton of trash, per person, per year.  We recycled 31.5 percent of that trash, or 319 pounds.  Where does the other 693 pounds of trash go?  Yes, you are correct, the landfill.  If we multiply the amount of trash we send to the landfill by the number of people, the number gets a bit ugly as we landfill more than 216,000,000,000 pounds of trash each year.

While I did not want to start the year off with some discouraging news, I am asking everyone to look at what they purchase and ask yourself a question – “when I am done with this, can I recycle it?”  If I cannot, is there a better choice that I can make.  We only have so much room on this planet, populations are rising year after year, but it comes down to some simple match for the next generation – will we have enough room to live as a result of all the trash we produce?

We can change, but it will take an effort by all of us.  I for one think the world is a pretty cool place and I would like my children’s children to be able to see the beauty that I did without having to drive or walk around a landfill to see it.