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We as humans have currently done a great bit of damage to the planet Earth. As an alternative way of disposing of garbage, would shooting large sums of trash into space be all that detrimental to the planet?
Question Date: 2009-03-30
Answer 1:

Your question reminds me of the phrase "There is no 'away'." In other words, when we dispose of things, we're really just moving them around.They may cause trouble in their new location. Space seems like a good idea at first because it's pretty far away, but there are problems.

First, it would cost a huge amount of money. The sources I've looked at say it costs about $10,000 a pound to send things into orbit on the space shuttle. It might cost a lot less to send garbage, but let's say we cut costs by 10,000 fold (a pretty big assumption), that would still be $1 per pound of garbage. How many pounds of garbage does your family create in one week? According to the "Less is More" website


"More than 8,000 tonsof waste are estimated to be generated each year by the more than 70,000students and 7,500 staff throughout Santa Barbara County public schools." That's 16 million pounds per year just for a fraction of the residents of Santa Barbara County. That's going to be a pretty big garbage bill.

Second, that only puts the garbage into orbit. The trash will eventually fall back into the atmosphere and burn up, but in the meantime your old gym shoes and apple cores would be a threat to space navigation. NASA has a site on space junk


That says there are already hundreds of millions of objects orbiting around the earth that are basically trash created by previous space activity. Imagine what would happen if we were spewing millions of tons of garbage up into orbit every year.

If we spent a whole lot more money, we could send things far enough away that they wouldn't orbit the earth, but imagine how much that would cost.

So it looks like we're better off using less, recycling, and disposing of wastes efficiently here on earth.

Would there be other problems with sending our trash away from the earth, never to return? Look in your family's garbage can. What kinds of things are "recycled" by the earth? What kinds of things are"harvested" from garbage right now? What kinds of things might people try to recover from garbage in the future as raw materials got scarce?

Thanks for asking,

Answer 2:

It would be bad because rocket fuel is toxic, and certain fumes released at high altitudes may also damage the ozone layer.It's not that significant when you only have a few launches per year, but consider that you'd need to launch a rocket every minute to get rid of all the trash. The U.S. alone generates 700,000 *tons* of solid waste per day. For comparison, the Space Shuttle can only carry 22 tons of cargo, so you'd need a Space Shuttle every 2 minutes for the U.S. to take its trash to orbit. But even then, you're not getting rid of it, you're just putting it into orbit, where it could could collide with the space station, satellites, or future Shuttle trips. You would need even bigger rockets to get the trash past Earth orbit and, say, drop it into the Sun. Instead, the best way to reduce our trash is to stop generating so much of it. That means recycling and making things like cars and computers so they can be recycled more easily.

Answer 3:

Yes it would be extremely detrimental to the planet. The reason is it COSTS a HUGE amount to put something in orbit or to launch something on a escape trajectory. So it would consume a BIG BIG amount of resources to put one ton of garbage in space... it would require a lot of money, and the process of making the rocket, etc would generate more CO2 gas than simply burning the garbage in the first place!!!!

Answer 4:

Great question! I've thought the same thing. The problem is if our space-bound garbage truck were to crash or explode in our atmosphere, potentially harmful garbage could spread all over the world. Think how disastrous it would be if we filled a spaceship with nuclear waste and it crashed!

If the spaceship exploded after it passed through our atmosphere into space, that would also be very bad. There's a growing concern in the scientific community of space debris and this garbage ship might add to the problem. Space debris is anything from satellites for cell phones to spent rocket stages to paint chips from old space ships orbiting our planet. Please see:


For an interesting discussion about all the pollution we've put up in space and the problems it is causing. In brief, this fast orbiting garbage can be very destructive to existing satellites and spaceships we're sending into space. Just last February an unused satellite crashed into a new one over Siberia, scattering even more space debris into Earth's orbit.

You should watch the funny Futurama episode named "A Big Piece of Garbage." This episode jokes about exactly what we're talking about - the main characters need to deal with a garbage ball that was sent into space 500 years earlier. It was even up for an Emmy in 1999! See:


In the end, although you brought up a very good idea, the risks do not outweigh the benefits. The take home lesson is that we, as humans, must take accountability for our actions and handle the pollution we've created in an environmentally responsible way.

It's good to know that you're not only concerned with our planet's issue, but that you're suggesting thought provoking solutions as well. Keep up the good work!

Answer 5:

1) It uses up energy to shoot material into space.
2) Those resources inherent in the trash (pulp, metals, the energy to create them) would then be lost forever from Earth, and believe it or not - Earth has finite resources.
3) Philosophically, this is equivalent to placing your sewage and other waste into rivers and oceans.
4) Near Earth Space trash already poses a hazard to the planet.

Answer 6:

Yes, if only because of the amount of energy necessary to get something out of Earth's gravitational field.

Burying it in a subduction trench or melting it in a volcano is probably a better option (since the interior of the Earth is radioactive anyway, that being the source of the energy that drives volcanoes in the first place).

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