Blog: Reducing Landfill Waste, Methane Gas From Air

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Pam Linn

In reading the story about Lauren Singer, a 25-year-old woman committed to a zero waste lifestyle, I thought maybe I might do something similar to help minimize the appalling accumulation in the local landfill.

For one thing, landfill garbage piles are responsible for huge emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon. Another source of methane is livestock flatulence from animals forced to eat corn and other grains instead of the grasses with which their digestive systems have evolved.

Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home” is a call for environmental stewardship, something we all might relate to. The pope has denounced ecological degradation as a sin that reduces creation to “among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor.”

He has also supported the Paris Agreement, the global climate pact recently ratified by the U.S. and China that went into force Nov. 4.

Singer’s stringent waste reduction is said to have produced four years of waste that fit in a single mason jar. While all of us might find that extraordinary, it is certainly worth trying to cut back, even a little, on the waste stream.

Recently, a high school teacher seeking to interest her students in the pope’s encyclical, encouraged them to keep track of their personal trash for just one week — everything from banana peels to paper or plastic straws.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that the average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash daily. That would be 1,606 pounds every year. In 2013, the EPA reported that of approximately 254 million tons of trash produced by Americans, less than 35 percent was recycled or composted.

During the days when I was trying to get the housekeepers and residents of the senior living complex where I live to recycle everything, I was appalled at the gross amount of plastic, glass, newspapers, magazines, cans and cardboard that were being thrown in the dumpsters to be carted away to the landfill. What a waste.

So, a few friends and I took over sorting and dumping said waste in the recycle collection bins just across the street. Eventually, the housekeepers contracted with a local recycler to dispose of it all. However, I still see huge sheets of cardboard and unfolded boxes in the dumpsters just because the kitchen staff is unwilling to dispose of them properly.

I read somewhere that Americans dispose of 500 million straws every day. I suppose a lot of those come from fast food restaurants and coffee bars, but still, that’s just way too many winding up in the waste stream.

So, over the years, I have learned to put my coffee and tea in reusable travel mugs so as not to waste paper cups with plastic lids. But now I am faced with what seems to be an insurmountable problem. In trading my out-of-season clothes from a plastic box to my main closet, I’ve discovered dozens of worn-out shirts and other tops. I tried to repair them but to no avail.

Even Goodwill isn’t interested in stitching them up again and some the knits have totally shraggedy cuffs and necklines. So, what can I do that doesn’t involve filling the trash barrels? And just how many dust rags can a person use? I would welcome answers here.

And, did I read in this newspaper that the local supermarket was going to remove its recycling bins? That would be a real shame, not only for local residents but also for the homeless people who collected cans and bottles from the beach in exchange for the cash deposits provided by the service. 

Perhaps we could encourage one of the other stores to contract with recyclers to provide this accommodation. For store managers and city council members to say recycling doesn’t pay is to miss the point. At best, it should be a break-even proposition or even a free service provided to residents. Isn’t this something that might be paid for by property taxes?

The high school students who participated in the one-week study were amazed at the amount of waste they created. With a gentle nudge from their teacher, and possibly the pope, they and their parents may be encouraged to care more for the only planet we inhabit. And, if nothing else, we could all do more to slow climate change.