With the constant rise in concern of global warming and humans impact on Earth’s climate, why don’t we just send our trash to the sun? Seems like a reasonable and quick solution right? Well not really.
Instead of going to the grand picture of trash and refuse we will focus on the United States which is the #1 trash producer in the globe. According to the Environmental Protection Agency in 2013, the US generated approximately 254 million tons of garbage. Roughly 85 million tons of that was recycled or composted. That still leaves 169 million tons of garbage that ends up in landfills.
What can we do with this garbage other than put it in our oceans or landfills, not much else unfortunately. Sending trash into space isn’t a good idea to begin with. NASA states that it costs around $10,000 to put one pound of payload into Earth orbit. While they are striving to get this cost down to a couple hundred dollars a pound in the next 25 years it still isn’t financially reasonable to use this as a means of getting our trash off and out of the ground.
With those numbers that means it would cost about $20,000,000 to send one ton of trash into Earths orbit. Well we don’t really just want to send it to orbit. We want it gone. We want it far away. Like 93,000,000 miles away. Into the sun. So we will need to add a couple more millions of dollars to account for fuel. So lets wager around $22,000,000 to get one ton of trash into a trajectory to the sun. Assuming we aren’t able to recover the vessels and need to build new rockets.
Just to send half of the US’ trash into the sun it would cost $1,859,000,000,000,000. The Falcon Heavy which is the strongest rocket to date can only carry 70 tons to Earths orbit. We will go for the middle ground with Space X’s costs to its customers. It costs them $90,000,000 to $150,000,000. So therefore $120,000,000 goes into sending just 70 tons. Remember the previous number was just a rough calculation. We are going to see how many Falcon Heavy missions it would take to take half of the US trash to the sun.
It would take around 1,207,143 Falcon Heavy missions to get rid of half of the US garbage that is accumulated in a year. Those missions would total in a cost of $144,857,160,000,000. Obviously this is no where near achievable by any means with the time limit only being a year.
Lets say that we were able to get this much money and we just have warehouses full of these rockets so money isn’t a problem. There is still the risk that the vessel break up or has a failure at any point during its mission. Once in the orbit what if the vessel breaks up and spread debris all around low Earth orbit. This could be catastrophic for infrastructure the entire globe relies on for things like telecommunication, GPS and other things people often take for granted.
Or even more speculative would be if the vessel was off course and was just going off into space. What if the trash land on another planet. The bacteria and other life forms on it could overwhelm already existing life on the planet driving us farther from discovering extra-terrestrial life.
It just isn’t financially smart nor is it safe to start sending garbage to space let alone the sun. It does just fine here on Earth. Or does it?