You asked for a simple answer to the question “Where does my household waste go?”. I give you a simple answer.
Once you dispose waste our of your house, this is what happens to it:
- Made into compost – Stuff that is of plant (or sometimes animal) origin and can rot fast – food, kitchen, garden waste – usually gets segregated and goes to make compost, which can be used as a soil nutrient. Fruits and vegetable waste, and garden waste typically get converted to compost. (See also: What are the best ways to turn fruit and vegetable waste into value?)
- Recycled – Stuff like glass, thick plastic paper and cups and bottles, paper, cardboard, metal go to recycling centers where they get recycled into the same items or new items. Now, not 100% of all the materials mentioned might go for recycling. For instance, soiled cardboard, very thin plastics, or paper-plastic laminates may not make it to the recycling center as recycling these are very difficult and/or is uneconomical. The list of what gets recycled and what doesn’t is still evolving and in fact differs from one city to another! (See also: Can all plastics be recycled?)
What happens to stuff that doesn’t get recycled or gets made into compost?
- Waste is converted to energy – If your municipality is one of the better ones, goes into a waste to energy generating unit that uses this waste to generate electricity. Yes, some portions of your household waste can be used as a fuel to generate power! (See also: Why is not all waste turned into energy? , Can I burn plastics to generate energy?)
- Goes to landfill – The waste that is left out after all the above reach the landfills. Landfills are the huge dump yards you would have surely seen in a corner of your city.
Now, the above described one is the ideal situation. In not-so-ideal situations, pretty much all three categories can end up in a landfill and rot there forever! As you can imagine, it is bad idea to let stuff that could have been disposed otherwise to rot at a landfill.
It is not surprising that most folks do not know the above facts. Only now, municipalities around the world have started sensitising the ordinary folks to the waste management practices and processes they are undertaking. Until now, most of these operations were not very transparent, and it would have taken significant efforts on the part of an individual to figure out all these on his or her own. In this context, I have a rather simple question for you: Have you ever visited the landfill nearest to your house? If you have not, spend a Sunday visiting one. It is unlikely to be the pleasantest of experiences, but I can assure you it will be one of the most educational.