SAN DIEGO—I'm writing this from “BioCycle,” the annual meeting of professionals involved in the composting, organics, and renewable energy markets, who propose that landfills stop accepting organic material—not just yard waste, but also food scraps and paper—by 2012.
They believe this is the quickest and least expensive way to reduce a community's greenhouse gas emissions because, for them, landfill gas is not an acceptable source of renewable energy. Because paper and food, respectively, represent the greatest volume of material being deposited at landfills, diverting this waste to other destinations will sharply reduce production of this ozone-destroying gas.
Be that as it may, public landfills of all sizes are investing in waste-to-energy projects with the blessing of the EPA. I don't fault these infrastructure managers for exploring the market for their product. I also believe the nation should recognize the leadership that PUBLIC WORKS readers provided—and continue to provide—in driving the practice of recycling, a process that requires identifying markets for all that material as well as mobilizing the public.
Developing similar programs for food scraps and soiled paper is our society's last major step toward taking full responsibility for the consequences of consumption. Once again, PUBLIC WORKS readers are leading the charge in selling restaurants, industry, and residents on the value of expanding their recycling efforts.
Seattle Public Utilities, for example, offers tax exemptions to businesses that separate food scraps, including meat and dairy products, and charges them 20% less than the standard collection rate. The utility plans to collect residential organics on a weekly basis next year. On the other side of the country, the 2,600 residents of Bowdoinham, Maine, can dump their kitchen waste, including bones and meat scraps, at the town's “solid waste and recycling barn.” The facility also welcomes waste wood, which it burns for heat. The public works department in Cambridge, Mass., got a local business to donate 2.5- and 5-gallon plastic buckets so residents can collect food waste.
Frankly, I was surprised at how small “BioCycle” was compared to other conferences I attend. Given the popularity of “natural” grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, the demand for hybrid cars, and the national obsession with “sustainability” in general, the composting industry should be on the brink of a boom. Many of the products and processes that were on display are already in service in Europe, Australia, and Israel.
One final thought. Recycling programs apply only to waste that's being generated now. I predict the day will come when we'll be digging up closed landfills (at the least ones that aren't under golf courses or other recreational facilities) to harvest the latent energy that resides within.
If and when this happens, I have no doubt that PUBLIC WORKS readers will once again be on the forefront of change.
Stephanie J. Johnston
Editor in Chief