Sunday, November 29, 2009

Don’t Soil the Nest

Even a bird knows not to soil its nest. This message seems lost on us, as our nest (our planet) is filling up with our trash. Instead of properly disposing of it (as any bird would), we are living, drinking, eating, planting, and breathing our unmentionable waste products. According to Learner.org, “Every year, the United States generates approximately 230 million tons of ‘trash’--about 4.6 pounds per person per day.”

That’s a shame because most people would recycle their waste if the process was convenient, inexpensive, and the public believed that it was being accomplished properly (sustainably). Though there will always be those with something radically wrong with their heads, defying all reason and littering regardless, we must accomplish world-wide recycling.

So, why are we so dysfunctional on recycling? Part of the problem is psychological. We have become so inured to our cushy way of life that we want our discards to go away magically. (Though, this violates the Conservation Law.) Politicians, wishing to please their continuants, try to comply by finding novel ways to either support or giving up on supporting curb-side pickups. But it ain’t that easy to make billions of tons of trash disappear. In fact, it’s impossible. In order for our waste to get back into the ecosystem, it has to be removed, separated, composted, donated, or reused. In other words, for that sustainability thing to work, citizens and their governments, non-governmental agencies (NGAs), and businesses have to do their part.

For individuals in our community there is no excuse for putting your old TV or computer monitor on the curb as there many recycling events, and places that will recycle and disassemble them. No excuse for putting pharmaceuticals down the toilet: Monroe County has properly staffed collection events. No excuse for not recycling papers—all kinds of paper. [http://www.monroecounty.gov/des-hhw.php] And, no excuse for land-filling leaves or burning them (check “New Regulation on Open Burning Takes Effect Oct. 14.” –NYS DEC).

Given all that, there is much that cannot be done by the public and must be accomplished by the business community or government. Our region should compost all food waste, as other regions are doing. We should be recycling all plastics up to and including number 7. We should be checking to make sure no recyclables are entering our waste systems.

NGAs can help, but they have a conundrum. Zero waste, where cradle-to-cradle product design insures that stuff never becomes waste, is yet a dream. At present, landfills are at least an interim necessity. However, to endorse landfills would mean that the public becomes complacent, believing that this business solution of “out of sight out of mind,” which even becomes a source for energy by burning the resultant methane gas, is a sustainable solution. It’s not, because not everything breaks down to environmentally friendly stuff.

I believe that to make it all work, governments should level the playing field by adopting and enforcing best recycling practices so that everyone would be assured that a recycling outfit was doing so sustainably—with the eventual goal of Zero Waste.

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