Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rethinking Garbage

Do you know where your local garbage dump is located? Have you ever been there? Few people have, but it is both informative and insightful to visit yours and see what happens to all the stuff you put in the can that gets picked up on your curbside each week.

Most municipal solid waste facilities (let's just call 'em dumps, 'cause that's what they really are) operate (accept garbage) from 30 to 50 years. My local dump opened a new facility in 2005 designed to accept 100 tons of garbage a day for the next 20 years. This is in a county of less than 30,000 residents. That's approximately six and a half pounds of garbage per person per day. The current fill rate indicates we may even be exceeding that amount. Why do we produce so much garbage? I've discussed this topic in a previous post, but have gained some new insights since then.

Recently, I moved just outside the city limits and no longer have the privilege of paying to have my garbage picked up by the city. Which means I either have to take it to the dump myself or pay a private firm to do it for me. I found it an eye opening experience to witness the dump firsthand. Of course there is the smell. But the overwhelming sensation was more like watching a family member being mugged, violated or beaten. The savage destruction of nature that takes place in a 'waste management facility' is visceral, disgusting and shameful. And we all bear responsibility.

Thankfully, my community has a pretty good recycling program, taking everything from cardboard to paper to plastics and glass. And if you separate out the glass, they will take everything else in a single stream. So I have three containers in my kitchen; one for all recycling (I remove the glass before the run to the dump), one for kitchen scraps that goes into the compost (more on that below) and one for everything else. The interesting aspect of this system is I find that the smallest volume ends up being the 'everything else' container, which is mostly plastic film (Saran Wrap), Ziploc bags and chip bags. I would guess that three-quarters by volume of what I take to the dump goes into the recycle bin.

The compost bucket collects all kitchen scraps except meat or bones (I'm a vegetarian, so that is not an issue), soft paper products such as used Kleenex and paper towels, fruit and vegetable skins and rinds, seeds, peels, coffee grounds and anything else that was recently alive (thus avoiding the classification issue with plastics, which are mostly petroleum products which technically were alive millions of years ago). I am amazed at the volume and weight of product that used to go to the landfill that now provides free (and organic) fertilizer for my garden. Of course, sending any kind of yard waste to the dump makes no sense whatsoever, so please stop putting grass clippings in bags for the garbage man unless your community has a specific composting program.

This is not the utopia I imagined in another post, but I think it is a big step in the right direction.

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