Saturday, January 30, 2016

Who Cleans Up After Us?

When we are faced with an issue, one of the biggest barriers to caring about it is perspective. For many people, we are far too busy to go beyond the scope of what is happening in our immediate lives. Which is why many issues reach a state of "Out of sight, out of mind."

But garbage plays a prevalent role in everybody's lives, it plays such a constant role that for many people it simply isn't at the forefront of their minds. But not only that, garbage has become stigmatized in many different ways. And it's no surprise, something that can be smelly, unsightly, cumbersome, and take up a lot of space, garbage is as much of a nuisance as it gets when we're trying to go about our lives.

Garbage has been hiding in plain sight for so long that it is only noticed when it is hindering our lives. But thanks to the effort of many workers, it doesn't hinder our lives nearly as much as it could. That is what led to Robin Nagle to giving this 8-minute Ted talk called "What I discovered in New York City trash"

So as we dive deeper into landfills, think about the people who are working in that environment. We never hear about well managed landfills, but we do hear about them when they're badly managed.

Waste Management

Handling waste is an issue that deserves some spotlight. If waste is not handled properly, it can be detrimental to not only the environment but to people and animals as well. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to help reduce waste. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has outlined steps every individual can follow to reduce the amount of waste produced.

For example, in order to reduce waste at home a person can:

  • ·         Learn to compost at home Use food scraps, yard trimmings, and other organic wastes to create a compost pile. Adding the created compost to soil increases water retention, decreases erosion, and keeps organic materials out of landfills.
  • ·         Turn off or unplug lights during the day. Doing so will save energy and help your lights last longer. 
  • ·         For cleaning chores, buy reusable mops, rags and sponges. When using cleaning products, use only the amount you need and follow the bottle’s directions for use and disposal. 

Those were just a few tips from the EPA’s website. Follow this link here to find out how you can reduce waste anywhere you go.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Portland and Future Waste Policies

Landfill management and waste disposal isn’t a topic that receives a lot of public or political attention. Big piles of waste aren’t attractive to talk about, and we pay money for this material to be moved far away from our urban area (and for good reason, landfills are naturally stinky). And while Portland’s superb recycling programs are helpful, the Metro recently reported at least a million tons of garbage is still being produced and sent to landfills from the Portland area. The recent rising trend in Portland’s population means of course, more waste, and Portland’s current waste removal contracts are set to expire in 2019. This could be an opportunity to improve and innovate Portland’s waste management, a chance to explore new options for waste management and diversify our waste management resources. This opportunity brings up potential for Portland to improve its already reputable status as an environmentally friendly city that works.

The city currently seems to be focusing on the option of incineration as a process of energy conversion. This would take place in a currently existing plant just north of Salem (Portland Tribune's coverage here). While I’m not completely opposed to the theoretical idea of waste to energy, I wonder if Portland could do better in exploring more options. Proponents of waste-to-energy incineration frequently cite Europe as a model, but Europe is both limited in options because of land scarcity. Also, European plants frequently use new, cleaner technologies that don’t produce the ash pollutant associated with traditional incineration plants. What the current proposals (and the lack of diversity in potential options) suggests to me is a shortcoming in environmental policy that, when enacted in long-term private contracts, can lock the city’s waste-management policy into an inefficient strategy for business reasons and hence failing to take advantage of potential innovations and more diverse mechanisms for dealing in the market of waste management. Learning from other cities innovations and keeping flexibility and open options in land management would be helpful, and allow waste management to adapt to current trends and needs of a rising population.

Food Waste and You

The abundance of wasted food (here, I’m thinking specifically within America) is produced by both super-retail shopping culture and the food service industry as well as individual (micro-level) waste produced by households. Food waste is estimated to be the 2nd largest contribution to landfills, and food decomposition is the largest producer of methane gases (more facts here!). While the numbers can be overwhelming (30-40% of America’s food supply is wasted), there are basic strategies individuals can take to reduce food waste at home. So what can we as individuals do?

-Proper meal planning and storage is crucial. My experience in the food service industry has created a kind of OCD about food storage and prep. I find it helpful to prep my vegetables ahead of time, about 2-3 days’ worth (chop, slice, dice). And while I generally try and stay away from freezing, it is a helpful tool for extending food’s shelf life.

-Use leftovers, and if you aren’t a leftover person, find someone/something who is (don’t forget about any hungry pets).  Find a local food bank near you here.
-Compost- if you don’t have a city that composts, here’s a good introduction to back yard composting:

The hope is to divert food scraps from landfills. These individual actions are necessary not only to do they potentially reduce waste, but also because these individual actions accumulate into the overall cultural whole that produces the social relations that contribute to waste. And when in doubt, you can always consult the food recovery hierarchy: