Am I breathing in germs if I'm smelling the garbage in my kitchen garbage can?
Answer by Drew Smith, former R&D director at MicroPhage and SomaLogic, on Quora:
The number of cultivatable bacteria in a typical office environment is about 100 per cubic meter, somewhat lower than outdoor levels:
Hospitals show higher levels of cultivatable airborne bacteria, around 720 per cubic meter.
The average breath takes in about 0.5L of air . There are a thousand liters per cubic meter. So the number of cultivatable bacteria (which includes most human pathogens aka “germs”) that you take in is pretty low, about one per twenty breaths. But when all bacteria are included, every breath takes in a few million bugs.
Recent studies show at least thirty different biological and bacterial growths can occur on the inner surface of garbage chutes and within the confined air space of the collection room, including Salmonella, E. Coli 0157, Dysentery, and Legionella.*
Garbage smells are definitely generated by the growth of bacteria. The concentration of germs near garbage is somewhere between the level found in hospitals (a few hundred per cubic meter) and pig farms (a few thousand per cubic meter).
* Maurice Baum I.H., Environmental Research & Restoration, Inc.