Sunday, April 15, 2012

Grappling With a Garbage Glut

Landfill Compactor
It's the elephant in the room. It's your crazy old uncle that everybody ignores at family gatherings. We have a problem and it's related to our consumption. I say "we" and "our" because I am just as guilty of blindly consuming and watching the by-products of this consumption go out to the curb each week and get taken away to somewhere, out there, wherever that is. Out of sight out of mind.

I go to the store, buy stuff (food, clothes, electronics, appliances, home improvement items, etc.) that I think I need. This stuff comes wrapped in cardboard and plastic packaging that I typically can't reuse and I throw that packaging out if it can't be recycled. I also throw out food that wasn't eaten. All of this discarded packing and spoiled food gets wrapped up in a plastic trash bag (plastic takes about a 1,000 years to decompose) and goes off to spend the rest of its long life in the landfill. Landfills are large swaths of land where all of our discarded stuff is moved around, compacted, buried and spends the rest of its life decomposing.

This article in the Wall Street Journal speaks to us about our garbage problem. It's a problem because we can't continue to indefinitely consume and throw away the stuff that we manufacture. That behavior is not sustainable. Municipalities are beginning to grapple with the garbage problem by thinking of innovative ways to deal with all of that trash. The WSJ article shows us how European nations are "shunning landfills" by increasing their recycling efforts as well as building "waste-to-energy" plants.

Yet we shouldn't just leave the problem up to government considering that the problem is caused by every one of us living breathing humans. Each of us has the responsibility and power to solve this garbage problem. The best and easiest thing we can do, which was brought up in the last paragraph of the WSJ article, is to figure out ways to divert waste from the landfill in our homes and businesses. For myself, I've started a compost bin at home where I take all of those landfill-bound food scraps (no meat) and throw them into the bin. This compost will then be added to the soil to help my garden grow healthy vegetables for my family. Composting has reduced my weekly landfill contribution by a third. Recycling cardboard, plastic containers, glass, and aluminum helps reduce my weekly landfill contribution by at least a half. My weekly landfill contribution is now composed of meat scraps and packaging that is not recyclable. And composting and recycling are pretty easy.

There are many other things that each of us can do to help divert stuff from our community landfills, but we first need to admit that we have a garbage problem, which in essence is a consumption problem. Once we do that it will be easier to understand ways to divert waste from our landfills. What are your thoughts dear readers?

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Wishful Thinking

*Before adding PV, wind, or solar thermal to your residential or commercial structure, the first step is to analyze this structure's energy consumption through a professional energy audit. I'd like to see some public education on the importance of an energy audit for any structure. Remember Smokey the Bear's forest fire shtick drilled into our heads over the last few decades? How about something like, "Henry the House" desperately wanting to know how much energy he consumes and wastes throughout the day?

*With over 300 sunny days a year on the Front Range is it too much to ask for solar PV and thermal modules on every residential and commercial unit (after an energy audit of course)?

*How about affordable plug-in electric cars that go more than 100 miles on a charge with PV and wind powered recharging stations?

*Dreaming of companies large and small adopting business sustainability practices to maximize profits, reduce their carbon footprint, and enhance the lives of their employees and the communities that surround them.


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