If you send trash directly to a landfill not much happens, but if you recycle it a series of business touch the trash and that creates jobs. Here is a report from a few years ago that shows recycling creates 25 jobs, while sending trash to the landfill only creates one job (per ton of trash). A huge economic impact and one that highlights my favorite green idea – the double impact.
I’ve always believed the key to our green future is to find ways to improve lives as we go green. It can’t just be about sacrifices and volunteering, it also needs to help people. And that is usually the way it works, it just sometimes takes a little extra time to think things through.
Which makes recycling a valuable sector of the economy employing hundreds of thousands of people. A report from the EPA says there are “56,000 establishments that employ more than 1.1 million people, generate an annual payroll of nearly $37 billion, and gross over $236 billion in annual revenues.”
Now that is a double impact – jobs, GDP, and businesses for greening the planet.
Ohio Stadium is the largest stadium in the country to attempt zero waste. With 105,000 seats and a massive tailgating section this is a challenge. Their goal is get near-zero waste with 90% of the trash turned into recycling and compost.
The success has been fast and big with a 61% reduction in trash sent to landfills in 2011, the first year of the program. And an incredibly high season average of 75.3% for recycling and compost for an average of 105,231 people.
The best part is how fast this is all moving. When the program began they weren’t sure what they could do, and labelled zero waste as “pretty impossible”. Now, they are hoping for at least one game in the 2012 season with 90% diversion rate, their standard for zero waste.
An incredible achievement that shows zero waste is possible, can happen fast, and without interrupting all the fun.
Living a zero waste lifestyle isn’t hard if you start simple. And the first step is to get rid of some of the trash cans in your home. Leave a few in the major areas and make sure to leave one for recycling. Soon you will find the majority of your trash to be recyclables and the trash you send to the landfill dropping like the rain.
When I made this change, I found a trash can in each room. Most contained only a few pieces that I had to empty every week. I thought about it and determined that the kitchen and the bathroom were key places to keep a trash can. Everything else was put in storage, or converted into a recycle bin. The fewer trash cans freed up a little time and allowed me to focus on what I was throwing out.
It happened that I wasn’t recycling enough. I visited the website of my trash company and found their list of approved recyclables. I was recycling only half of what I could and quickly doubled the amount in the recycle bin. It’s amazing how this one step – reducing the trash cans – led me to the easiest and biggest step towards zero waste. I was halfway there.
The next step was a little harder. No big reductions, just making one small change at a time. I noticed my shampoo and conditioner bottles weren’t recyclable, so I switch to a brand that was. The little yogurt cups weren’t recyclable but the big ones were. I began paying attention to each item I was sending to a landfill, and found that each had a recyclable alternative.
And that’s it. The path to zero waste is simple and easy. At first glance it sounds like an extreme lifestyle and impossible to do. But it’s not and everyone I recommend this to is shocked at the simplicity. A little step in the green direction and we all do our part.
From a high of 6.3 pounds of trash per day in 2005, Californians have lowered their output in 2011 to a record-low of 4.4 pounds/day. Good news for the state with the highest population, and yet compared to the national average – 4.4 pounds – that’s not much of a drop, more like stopping the excess.
But don’t count out Californians yet – the numbers show strong a downward trend that may leave the rest of the country behind. The state diversion rate (recycling, compost) is 65% – among the highest in the country – with plans for 75% by 2020. In comparison, the country is only at 34% – meaning some states must have horribly low rates.
There is also a strong downward trend among Californians and their trash. The drop was 30% – 1.9 pounds – in the last 5 years, while the rest of the country dropped 0.24 pounds in that same time. And the government is hoping to continue this decline – as the economy bounces back – by signing into law AB 341.
Which among many new rules, forces businesses to start recycling – the only sore spot in this story. At work Californians produce 11.3 pounds of trash – much more than at home. This is largely due to workplace practices that don’t promote recycling and state laws that let office buildings avoid recycling. This new law should remedy that.
Californians have slashed the amount of stuff they throw away each day, pushing per capita disposal rates down to a record low last year even though the economy picked up steam.
It’s a good showing — but residents aren’t doing nearly as well as they might have thought, and state officials are asking for help to dramatically boost waste reduction and recycling by 2020. That likely will result in a suite of new rules, programs and fees designed to improve reuse of materials and minimize the need for more landfills.
California set a goal of a 50% reduction in 1989. In the last decade, most of the state has achieved that and surpassed it (the current statewide rate is 65%). Now, the government has upped the ante, asking for 75% by 2020.
I’m the radical sitting next to you. I do things the American populace would consider crazy and yet nobody seems to notice. I slide by without a peep from the authorities. What am I talking about?
I live a completely Zero Waste lifestyle. It’s hard to believe and you should see the reactions I get from others. Everyone goes wide-eyed, then the judging starts, and the skepticism. I don’t look like a radical, I’m not tied to a tree or wearing hemp clothes. I’m just an average looking guy.
To explain all this let’s start with what Zero Waste means. The concept isn’t about throwing things away, like most think, it’s about sustainability and recycling. We are all consumers and will continue to be, and the goal isn’t to get rid of consumption but to modify it. To create a system where everything we use ends up someplace other than a landfill.
Largely, this means recycling the hell out of everything, and a lot can be recycled. In fact, one of the most powerful things you can do right now is go look up your trash company’s rules for recycling. I guarantee you will find new things to recycle. In the world of waste, the trash companies are, generally speaking, the most advanced green groups you will find.
It’s such a simple move and yet so powerful, which helps because the next step is the hardest thing you will have to do. Eat better. I’m serious. As a man obsessed with trash I can tell you that the majority of our waste comes from our food. It’s also true that the more waste you create the worse you are eating.
After all, a McDonald’s happy meal comes with like 16 things to throw away, while a homemade sandwich with an apple create very little waste. An obvious comparison but you will find that as you dig into this, eating healthier and healthier, it just gets better…and tastier, cheaper, greener, more social, and more interesting.
Don’t take my word for it, just go out and try it. It will be one of the greatest things you ever do and also get you nearly to Zero Waste. Give it some time and you will reduce your waste by 90% or more. After that, all that is left is a lot of minor things. Like finding a restaurant that serves healthy food in recyclable containers or where can buy a recyclable toothpaste tube.
That’s it, pretty simple and yet so radical. Like I said in the beginning, I don’t look weird but I am possibly the weirdest person you know. I’ve been trying this stuff for three years now and I’m not living in a treehouse yet. I blend in completely with the normal folk and yet I’m a citizen of the future. I live in a sustainable way in a normal American household. Now if we can only get 300 million people to try this…
When thinking about the sustainability of REI’s operations, the complexity of the task quickly becomes apparent. Where does a person start?
Our annual stewardship report details one such area: our efforts to reduce REI’s waste-to-landfill.
We conducted a retail waste audit to better understand the details. To paint a picture, imagine this: Our teams literally went “dumpster diving” to get a real behind-the-scenes look at our trash.
We confirmed what our retail employees had long assumed—plastic garment bags (also called polybags) were a major issue.
A long-time retail industry standard—or, “the way it was always done”—has been to protect clothing in plastic bags during transport to stores. For example, a seemingly inexpensive bag that held a $100 sweater was removed and discarded when it reached our shelves for customers.
That’s where we parted ways with our standard practice.
While we started to reduce the number of bags for REI-brand products, that was only a small part of the challenge. Considering other brand products make up about 80% of what the co-op sells, we needed partners to make a big difference.
One great brand we work with is prAna, the California-based climbing and yoga apparel company. It turns out that people at prAna had been asking themselves the same question.
Here are 11 new and new-ish documentaries now streaming that offer interesting, frustrating and downright sad stories about cities.
Bill Cunningham New York
2010, 84 minutes
Directed by Richard Press
A film about octogenarian and New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who rides his bike around New York City taking pictures of clothes and the people – both ordinary and extraordinary – who wear them. A unique look at the changing fashions of one of the world’s centers of culture.
Down the street on Magnolia, just a few blocks form the beach, is the ASCON Landfill Site. This 38-acre parcel of land is a toxic waste dump containing waste from construction and oil drilling.
It is considered a California Superfund site, meaning that it is one of the most toxic in the state. According to the California EPA, the area “operated as a landfill from 1938 through 1984…in its early years came from oil drilling operations, including waste drilling muds, waste water brines, and other drilling wastes.
“From 1957 to 1971, chromic acid, sulfuric acid, aluminum slag, fuel oils, styrene (a form of plastic), and other wastes were also disposed on the site. These liquid and semi-liquid wastes were deposited into open lagoons and pits.”
“From 1971 to 1984, some of the lagoons and pits were filled in or covered with solid waste materials (construction debris).”
This news has to be shocking for anyone living in Huntington Beach. Lagoons of sludge 25-feet deep, drilling wastes, pits of slag/acid/oils/sytrene, and then covered over with more waste.
Consider that across the street is Edison High School where thousands of kids, teachers, and parents spend their days, and on the other sides are houses and a popular park, Edison Community Park (another former landfill with methane gas leaks).
The news doesn’t get better.
An investigative report from the OC Weekly in 2004 discusses four children from the area who contracted a rare form of brain cancer.
“Something may be seriously amiss in southeast Huntington Beach…four children from that area died between February 2000 and June 2003 of a deadly brain cancer called brainstem glioma…an exceedingly rare cancer.”
“We know that a cluster of cancers in one geographic area doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something in the immediate environment that caused it…We also know that it is impossible to gather meaningful statistics with only four cases. The causes of most childhood brain tumors, including brainstem gliomas, are unknown. But we do know that exposure to certain chemicals can cause cancer.”
“It seems suspicious to us that four children who lived and played near this toxic waste dump contracted an extremely rare cancer. At the Ascon site, an oil worker became ill after contacting water running off the site. Ground squirrels living on the site appear, from the condition of their coats, to be in poor health…CalEPA recently found a 50-year-old tank of improperly stored flammable fuels that they didn’t know was there.”
“The objective of IRM is to enable assessment of the materials underneath the tarry waste of Lagoons 1 and 2. These waste materials beneath the tarry liquids are of unknown composition and geotechnical quality and have not been assessed with the tarry liquids present due to worker safety concerns.”
The project was completed in December 2010 after “58,000 tons of tarry materials and firming additive have been removed from Lagoons 1 and 2 at the Site, and transported to and disposed of at the designated disposal facility.”
Since then the city and the contractors have been testing the groundwater, stormwater, air quality, etc, and in March 2011, the project was considered complete.
“This site is named for two companies that tried, in vain, to clean up the site. Nesi acquired an option on the site and tried to pump it clean. That did not work and Nesi folded. An attempt was made by Ascon, an acronym for the asphalt and concrete that had been dumped on the site. Ascon was not successful, either.”
What happens next is unknown.
The government agency responsible for the clean-up will continue its slow progress. Further tests, including investigating the lower levels of Lagoons 1, 2 will be conducted. Then planning, public hearings, and finally another clean-up.
With so much waste on-site this will take decades.
At some point, the land will be clean enough for a private company to complete the process. The land is in such a valuable location that many developers will gladly take on the last steps of cleaning to reap the profits.
In the meantime, we all are stuck with a remnant of our industrial past.