When I lived in a small village area in the wild lands of Mendocino County we did not have the luxury of garbage pick up. We had to resort to a very mindful system of trash disposal—a collective endeavor of neighbors to make a run to the dump once a month. We had a compost heap for food scraps or fed them to our barn yard animals. We had a recycling sorting system for paper, cans, bottles and plastics. Yeeks… and we even had to burn some non-toxic things in a controlled burn pile or the wood stove! Ashes were then used for our outhouses (yes… no indoor plumbing in some places!) or along garden beds to discourage slugs.
We kept jars to store food in instead of trashing the jars. The jars are a great way to replace “plastic containers” for storing food. The question we had to always ask ourselves if we purchased something—what part of it would we have to throw away and then how to dispose of it?
I live in an urban area now and it is like being a salmon trying to swim upstream. Trash is everywhere—on sidewalks, parking lots, in the streets, on the side of highways and what I see being thrown away makes me wonder, are people thinking?
I was walking past Berkeley High School one day and there it was…trash! Candy wrappers, potato chip bags etc. There were some students sitting on the concrete wall. I started picking up the trash right under their swing feet as they sat— not saying anything while I was doing it. One guy said “What are you doing?!” I replied, “I am keeping my neighborhood clean”. They were young guys and a few were starting to razz me. Then one brave soul amongst these guys stepped up and said, “She is taking care of the environment bro” --you know-- pick it up bro.” Ah! A poet … and he didn’t even know it. Then the young men started discussing “No one cares where I live – it is all trash everywhere.” I smiled at them and replied, “Sounds like you care so you all can do it right?” Then I walked away- pondering why no one cares, as they had told me.
Now let’s talk a bit about “stuff”. Since I moved to the urban wild lands, I have accumulated stuff—mostly books and almost everything else I can recycle or someone can re-use. Most of my acquisitions have been casts-offs or pass-alongs. I live in a University town and it is amazing how much of what I own comes from student cast offs. I can imagine what actually goes to the landfill!
Speaking of landfills. Where is it going? What are the true costs?
I am borrowing this pie chart from the EPA and wow I say!
General Overview of What's In America's Trash
According to the U.S. EPA Durable goods (tires, appliances, furniture) and nondurable goods (paper, certain disposable products, clothing) account for several million tons of the solid waste stream. Container and packaging waste is a significant component of the nation's waste stream as well. This material includes glass, aluminum, plastics, steel and other metals, and paper and paperboard. Yard trimmings such as grass clippings and tree limbs are also a substantial part of what we throw away. In addition, many relatively small components of the national solid waste stream add up to millions of tons.
With our globalized economy we have stuff shipped to and from everywhere. I still can’t figure out from an economic cost/benefit analysis how we can get such cheap goods just based on the cost of production and the cost of oil to transport the stuff! Then there are the social costs to consider and that is whole other topic.
There are over 2.5 million container ships a years traversing our oceans to get all this stuff around! Ships use a dirty and cruder oil to power their travel on the high seas. “Spills from these ships are more common than one thinks”, I was told by a seamen that I had recently met. We were discussing the cargo ship oil fuel disaster spill in San Francisco Bay. He added, “And when these spills happen, you rarely hear about them”. “Very interesting”, I replied.
The cartons, sacks, bales, pallets, drums and boxes wrapped in plastic are placed in huge box containers that look like railroad cars. In fact, many are placed on railroad cars and then shipped across America. So what happens to these containers after they arrive at their destination? Many of the 20ft. & 40ft. box containers and tank containers for bulk liquids are abandoned after being emptied because it is too expensive to ship them back. Linerboard--the inner and outer layers of a container—is usually made of hardwoods. Now the floors of these containers—are made of hardwood. Oh my! Think of all the trees worldwide that are involved in this! Entire forests go into shipping stuff as cargo! And we have not even discussed the impacts of forest loss on species habitat, watersheds and shipping that timber to the mill!
Most stuff is packed on pallets. Pallet materials are supposed to be made of materials that will not be a prime habitat for hitchhiker invasive species or that can harbor diseases that would wreck havoc on our plants. The majority of pallets are made of softwood and hardwood…from trees. Some pallets are made of plastic. And we all know plastic comes from oil. Pallets that are made of wood, if not heat treated, are fumigated with methyl bromide (also used on strawberries and golf courses!). By the way methyl bromide use has been curtailed by an international treaty but the U.S. has succeeded in claiming exemptions to this treaty. California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) reports that in 2006, 6.5 million pounds of bromomethane (key ingredient in methly bromide) was applied to California crop fields. I wonder who tracks the other uses of methyl bromide as in pallet spraying?
Everything is interconnected here! So what to do?
You guessed—think before you buy!
“Well…” you may say, “how about the thousands of pallets and containers that are sitting around and still on their way”? O.K. I did some research.
Now here are some real interesting links.
Lay Your Pallet Down, Don't Burn It!
Earthaven Ecovillage and Clement Pappas Cooperate on Juicy Green Building Solution
In 2005, North Carolina enacted House Bill 1465, which bans the disposal of wooden pallets in municipal solid waste landfills by October 2009.
Here is an interesting solution: With approximately 250 million scrap tires being generated annually in the United States and the existing piles estimated at between 2-3 billion, this represents a serious problem. ATP-Advanced Technology Pallets a Nevada Corporation (ATP), has patented RST-PAL Pallet, a new pallet made from recycled scrap tire rubber. They say that the “RST-PAL Pallet" is strong, durable and reusable, providing an alternative to wooden pallets and the expense associated with replacing, repairing and discarding wooden pallets. RST-PAL Pallets might be serial numbered and bar-coded to insure tracking and retrieval so that they can be used over and over again for many years.
My question is why hold patents on ideas and products that can provide large scale immediate solutions. New job creation and solving ecological problems are needed. And I am sure there are many more great ideas out there.
Another item to take note of is high tech trash. For an eye opening read take a look at:
So I challenge bloggers everywhere~ Let’s do it- let’s get into trash talk! Send me some solutions and I will post the best solutions that I receive by April 1st, 2008.