Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Getting the Facts on Garbage

Photo: The Wall Street Journal
Did you know that every year we throw out enough plastic film to shrink-wrap the state of Texas? Or that the widely accepted E.P.A. figure of 4.4 lbs. of trash per person per day has actually been upped to 7 lbs. as a result of more recent survey by Columbia University?

These tidbits and more can be found in last Saturday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal. In Edward Humes’ “Grappling With a Garbage Glut,” Better BTU was thrilled to find an article that was comprehensible for the everyday reader and the expert alike.

As industry professionals, we’ve heard the figures designed to jolt consumers into the reality of how wasteful our society has become. We skim over facts about how many football fields our trash can fill up without batting an eye. So often we discuss waste in terms of billions of tons that it begins to lose its effect on us. That’s why it’s best for even the most advanced to go back to the basics every once in awhile and Humes’ article helps us do just that.  

In 2009, a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology decided to track its garbage the way other scientists follow migrating birds. After attaching electronic chips to its garbage, the team followed the trash trail as it traversed the continent on the road to recycling or an out-of-state landfill.

The U.S. has seen its number of landfills shrink from 18,500 to 1,900 in the past 30 years. While that is generally considered a good thing, most of us don’t think about how that increases the cost of transporting trash. The state of New York spent more than $300 million last year trucking its waste to out-of-state landfills, up to 300 miles away. It’s also worth noting that trash is now the number one export for America. While China’s leading export to the U.S. is computers, we fill up cargo containers with scrap cardboard for the return trip East.

Book Release Date: Apr. 19, 2012
But it doesn’t have to be like this. While our industry is working hard on making waste-to-energy technology more cost-effective, dramatic efforts have been made overseas to cut down on the amount of product packaging, which accounts for almost one-third of U.S. waste. European countries charge manufacturers, not taxpayers, for package waste and it’s made a difference.

Humes discusses different waste-to-energy projects and philosophies on both sides of the Atlantic and examines Waste Management’s experiment using S4 Energy Solutions’ plasma gasifier in conjunction with its landfill in Arlington, Ore. His book Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash hits bookstores on Apr. 19th and we can assure you that there will be a copy on the shelves at Better BTU. 

The Wall Street Journal: Grappling With a Garbage Glut (Apr. 14, 2012)

1 comment:

  1. How can we reduce these numbers and put America on a trash diet?

    Looking forward,
    Alpco Recycling Inc.