Archive for August, 2009

It’s Time to Throw Out the Throwaway Economy

The stresses in our early 21st-century civilization take many forms — social, economic, environmental and political. One distinctly unhealthy and visible illustration of all four is the swelling flow of garbage associated with a throwaway economy.

Throwaway products were first conceived following World War II as a convenience and as a way of creating jobs and sustaining economic growth. The more goods produced and discarded, the reasoning went, the more jobs there would be.

What sold throwaways was their convenience. For example, rather than washing cloth towels or napkins, consumers welcomed disposable paper versions. Thus, we have substituted facial tissues for handkerchiefs, disposable paper towels for hand towels, disposable table napkins for cloth ones, and throwaway beverage containers for refillable ones. Even the shopping bags we use to carry home throwaway products become part of the garbage flow.

The throwaway economy is on a collision course with the Earth’s geological limits. Aside from running out of landfills near cities, the world is also fast running out of the cheap oil that is used to manufacture and transport throwaway products. Perhaps more fundamentally, there is not enough readily accessible lead, tin, copper, iron ore or bauxite to sustain the throwaway economy beyond another generation or two. Assuming an annual 2 percent growth in extraction, U.S. Geological Survey data on economically recoverable reserves show the world has 17 years of reserves remaining for lead, 19 years for tin, 25 years for copper, 54 years for iron ore, and 68 years for bauxite.

The cost of hauling garbage from cities is rising as nearby landfills fill up and the price of oil climbs. One of the first major cities to exhaust its locally available landfills was New York. When the Fresh Kills landfill, the local destination for New York’s garbage, was permanently closed in March 2001, the city found itself hauling garbage to landfill sites in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even Virginia — with some of the sites being 300 miles away.

Garbage travails are not limited to New York City. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, closed its last remaining landfill on Dec. 31, 2002, and now ships all its 750-thousand-ton-per-year garbage to Wayne County, Mich.

In Athens, the capital of ancient and modern Greece, the one landfill available reached saturation at the end of 2006. With local governments in Greece unwilling to accept Athens’s garbage, the city’s daily output of 6,000 tons began accumulating on the streets, creating a garbage crisis. The country is finally beginning to pay attention to what European Union environment commissioner Stavros Dimas, himself a Greek, calls the waste hierarchy, where priority is given first to the prevention of waste and then to its reuse, recycling and recovery.

One of the more recent garbage crises is unfolding in China, where, like everything else in the country, the amount of garbage generated is growing fast. Xinhua, a Chinese wire service, reports that a survey using an airborne remote sensor detected 7,000 garbage dumps, each larger than 50 square meters in the suburbs of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing. A large share of China’s garbage is recycled, burned or composted, but an even larger share is dumped in landfills (where they are available) or simply heaped up in unoccupied areas.

What China is teaching us is that the western economic model — the fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy — is not going to work for China. If it does not work for China, it will not work for India, which by 2030 may have an even larger population than China. Nor will it work for the other 3 billion people in developing countries who are also dreaming the “American dream.” And in an increasingly integrated global economy where we all depend on the same grain, oil and steel, the western economic model will no longer work for the industrial countries either.

The overriding challenge for our generation is to build a new economy — one that is powered largely by renewable sources of energy, that has a much more diversified transport system, and that reuses and recycles everything. We have the technology to build this new economy, an economy that will allow us to sustain economic progress. Can we build it fast enough to avoid a breakdown of social systems?

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Livermore Costco does composting like it does everything else — big – Inside Bay Area

LIVERMORE — Workers at Costco Wholesale in Livermore wanted the size of their statement to equal the size of their efforts.

So when the popular megastore’s 12-inch-by-12-inch green business certification arrived in the mail in June, warehouse manager Melissa McCurdy did what any proud boss with access to industrial-sized printing equipment would do — she blew it up. 

A 9-foot tall billboard lauding Costco’s environmental values now dangles from the ceiling over the main aisle for all to see. It’s big, but if its proportions were true to life it would be even bigger — 55 tons to be exact.  That’s how much garbage officials estimate is being diverted each month under the store’s four-month-old waste reduction program, the largest ever implemented in the Costco chain.

The 156,000-square-foot Livermore warehouse on Independence Drive is the first and only one of the company’s 500-plus warehouses worldwide to cut its landfill contribution by 80 percent, an accomplishment that helped it win certification from the Alameda County Green Business Program in June.

Store waste that once wound up at local dumps now is being broken down at worm farms, then sold or given away to farmers. The goal is to eventually stock that compost mix in the Livermore Costco — in essence "sell our own garbage," McCurdy said.  "I am still shocked that we did it," she added happily. 

Diverting a big box store’s organic waste to compost heaps may sound like a no-brainer, but the process is not easy.  "It is difficult to get to those levels of diversion for any kind of commercial site," said Rachel Balsley, program manager for StopWaste.Org.  The public agency, which provides waste reduction assistance to mid-sized and large businesses in Alameda County, recently awarded Livermore Costco a $5,000 grant to aid its efforts.  The store has gone "above and beyond showing leadership" in trash diversion, said Balsley, calling it a "model for other businesses."

Admittedly, Livermore Costco’s green revolution was less about saving the environment at first than it was about kicking a competitor "in the you-know-what," McCurdy said.  After a San Diego Costco launched a small composting program, McCurdy’s regional supervisor asked her to one-up managers in Southern California by starting a program here.  McCurdy said she groaned initially, ruing the extra work — that is until she "toured the trash."  "It’s not something you typically do: go in your trash and actually look at it. I couldn’t believe the amount of compostable materials that we were throwing in landfills," she said.

A walk around the refuse revealed that nearly 75 percent of the store’s 65 tons of monthly garbage was compostable, food-related waste. While a small percentage of bottles, cans and other items were being recycled, most of the rubbish was ending up in landfills.  Aided by waste specialists from UC Berkeley, meetings were held to train Costco employees.  Compostables, they learned, include everything from old office furniture to leftover cheese samples to pizza-stained paper plates and toothpicks from the food court.

"Our employees were key," said McCurdy, recalling how staff members embraced the program.  Twenty-five managers and 240 rank-and-file employees work at the store, which serves nearly 30,000 customers a week.  Workers traded in the disposable utensils they’d been using during lunch breaks for washable mess kits.  Meanwhile, three different bins — one for compostables, one for recyclables and one for everything else — were set up in the food court for customers.

These days, about 10 tons of garbage per month finds its way into the "everything else" bin, store officials said.  "The only things that aren’t biodegradable or recyclable in the food court are the straws, the hot dog wrappers and the grated cheese and crushed pepper packets," said McCurdy, adding, "We’re working out relationships now with the buying team to get a lower cost on biodegradable utensils."

McCurdy, who has since been transferred to the El Camino Costco in South San Francisco, said she plans to help implement the program there.  She said she would love to see other major retailers embrace it as well.  "If we can do it, I don’t see why the next guy can’t do it," said McCurdy.

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Carver county composting project: A model for the nation

More than 900 Carver county residents are trading their oversized trash cans for smaller ones these days due to the county’s new organic recycling program. And, they’re making a great impact on the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in the process. 

Different from the regular recycling program of aluminum and tin cans, newspapers, glass, and plastics, Carver county residents are able to throw items like used pizza boxes, paper plates, egg shells and ice cream containers into an organic recyclables container to be turned into compost for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Yard waste, food waste and tiny microorganisms create a nutrient-rich compost perfect for planting. 

The program involves residents separating various organic recyclables into specific bins, which are then hauled away to the Arboretum’s composting site. Once there, the materials are ground, mixed, turned, cured and screened before it is available compost. The process takes about six months. 

Environmentalists around the country are eager to duplicate this initiative says Ginny Black, the recycling specialist from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. She adds,

"There’s a high percentage of materials that we are throwing away that could be taken out of the landfills and brought to a facility like this and made into a beneficial product."

And, doing so will reduce our waste and leave the planet a better place. 

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San Francisco residents and businesses will be required to separate from their trash all potential compost, in addition to separating all recyclable materials, under a new law passed by the city’s Board of Supervisors.

How steep are the fines?

  • Passed by a 9-2 vote, the new law authorizes the city to fine individual citizens up to $100 per violation, and businesses up to $500 per violation, if they don’t properly segregate recyclable or compostable refuse from their trash.
  • Fines also can be imposed if garbage collectors notice an individual citizen is not submitting at least a cubic yard of refuse for composting each week.
  • The regulation came at the request of Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) in working toward the city’s stated goal of sending nothing to its landfill by 2020; the city already diverts 72 percent of its waste away from its landfill.

Under the new law, expected to take effect this fall, each home- and business-owner will be required to use three recycling bins: a green one for composting food and yard debris; a blue one for recycling bottles, cans, and paper; and a black one for garbage that cannot be recycled or composted.

A spokesperson for the city’s Environment Department, the agency tasked with overseeing the new law, said it will exercise restraint in issuing fines, reserving them for repeat offenders.

Critics counter that the city has broken similar promises in the past, such as its aggressive enforcement of laws prohibiting visible trash cans, even though proponents gained support for such laws only after pledging to exercise restraint in enforcement.

Per Bylund, a summer research fellow with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, notes mandated recycling has been a part of life for years.  But while the government touts the program as a success, it can make that claim only because it doesn’t factor in all the costs and burdens borne by residents and business owners, Bylund said.

A better approach to recycling is to privatize the disposal, recycling, and composting of refuse and allow market prices to provide consumer incentives, Bylund said.

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The Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler Review

The Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler

The Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler

Are you looking for a well-made, medium capacity compost tumbler for backyard composting?  The Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler is the answer.  Just think of all the beautiful flowers and vegetables you will be able to grow with the rich, organic compost made with your very own Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler.

The Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler is a free-standing tumbling compost bin. Air and moisture are distributed by the tumbling action ensuring the ideal conditions for rapid decomposition.

The Tumbleweed’s unique compost bin rotates effortlessly on its axis, and the contents fall from the top to the botton of the bin as it is rotated. The breaker bar across the middle of the bin helps break up clumped organic matter as it falls past.

Simply add your organic waste to the tumbler on a regular basis and give the barrel a couple of spins to ensure proper mixing of the organic materials. No more turning your compost with a pitch fork or following complicated layering techniques.

With a few spins each day and the right mix of organic matter, you can end up with dark, rich, organic compost in as little as 21 days. Composting time is dependent upon the mix of materials, moisture content of the compost, weather, etc.

For best result, use approximately 75% dry ingredients (shredded newspaper, grass clippings, leaves) and 25% moist waste (dead flowers, vegetables scraps). The Tumbleweed will work with any blend of organic material, but the process may take longer to complete. Remember, a well-aerated bin (daily spinning) helps break down materials into ready compost faster.

More About the Tumbleweed Composter:

  • Constructed of heavy duty UV-protected polypropylene plastic
  • Has two animal-resistant twist lock vented lids which allow for easy filling and emptying
  • Has center stainless steel rod which helps break down material in the composter with each spin
  • Comes with complete instructions for assemble and how to make compost
  • 46″ high x 26″ wide x 34″ deep
  • 58 gallon capacity (holds 7 to 8 cubic feet, or approximately 6.2 bushels)
  • Weighs 22 lbs

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The Worm Factory® 360 Worm Composting Bin Review

The Worm Factory® 360 Worm Composting Bin

The Worm Factory® 360 Worm Composting Bin

The Worm Factory® 360 Introducing the new and improved Worm Factory®, now called The Worm Factory® 360.  If you are looking for a well-built worm composting bin, this is the one for you.

Composting with worms allows you to turn kitchen scraps, paper waste and cardboard into nutrient-rich soil for your plants. The Worm Factory® 360composting system takes the effort out of composting.

The Worm Factory® 360 has been greatly improved over the previous model The Worm Factory®.  The new design has an increased air flow, which increases the composting speed.  Now you can produce compost much faster than traditional composting methods. Master Gardeners agree that worm castings or worm compost is one of the richest forms of fertilizer that you can use.

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Leave a Comment | Portland, ME | Composting At Highmoor Farm

Beautiful Highmoor Farm on Route 202 in Monmouth is one of The University of Maine’s five agricultural research facilities.

Originally purchased by the state in 1909, the 278-acre farm is celebrating 100 years of agricultural research, but it is cutting edge work.

With the Green movement, there is a heightened interest in agriculture among young people. Community Supported Agriculture, organic farming, higher food standards are all concerns of students who are flocking to farms in droves.

"I knew these trends were starting, but the strength of these movements surprises me," said University of Maine President Robert Kennedy. Kennedy, who grew up on a farm, participated in 4-H and had professorial appointments in Departments of Agriculture told NEWS CENTER that Maine stands to benefit from the green movement.

One area in which Maine leads the world is composting. The State of Maine has a compost team with representatives from the University, the Cooperative Extension Service, Department of Agriculture and Department of Environmental Protection. They have taught semi-annual, week-long courses to students from 40 countries. They have also been invited to present as far away as Australia.

They teach composters on the professional level (such as landfill operators) and on a household level. For more information on composting, click on the link to the right.

Mark King, Environmental Specialist for the Department of Environmental Protection advises, "Anytime is a good time to begin composting."

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