I was also thinking about waste, like Leticia. Along those lines, I was thinking about waste and what “waste” really is…
I’m guessing we all remember the “three R’s” aimed at reducing resource consumption. They’re great in theory! But Recycling stole the spotlight, and is poorly implemented in many locations. People in Upstate NY are getting wise to the ‘bag’ movement—bringing their own bags to the grocery store and markets. At this point, they’re a great accessory for some. There are even places (most local co-ops) where you can bring your own container to store and transport your bulk goods. But in the search for alternative fuel supplies, there’s a massive one that has been ignored: Garbage.
The pipes you see sticking up from a landfill are actually preventing dump fires by releasing a combustible gas. We’ve got plenty of garbage. Why aren’t we using it instead of seeking wacky new ways to extract energy? We’re letting our waste go to waste. York County, PA has been using its waste to create energy since 1989. According to them, “(b)y using resource recovery, York County reduces its garbage to ash (90 percent by volume), saves the equivalent of approximately 13 acres of landfill space a year (35 feet deep), generates enough electricity to power 20,000 homes, and beneficially reuses 100 percent of the remaining ash residue.” http://www.ycswa.org/rrc/index.htm. The county also saves 375,000 barrels of oil per year with the process. This is all from a county containing only 435,000 people. Think of what larger counties could do. Their plant looks rather unamazing and maybe even the type of eyesore we’re used to with power plants.
New Yorkers attempting to use these technologies to provide power have had some difficulty due to incineration laws, but several processes may be used to obtain the same result. Anheuser-Busch’s plant in Baldwinsville uses anaerobic digesters to turn waste from the production process into energy that fuels 80% of their operations. Mayor Bloomberg plans to take bids for a plant to generate energy in New York City, drawing criticism from the NRDC, which states that recycling compliance must be higher before operating the program. http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/waste-to-electricity-plan-draws-mixed-response-in-n-y/.
Numerous sources of recapture are evolving, turning everything from wastewater, to livestock waste, to airborne carbon into a new source of energy. These technologies have amazing potential. Think of the reduction of landfills, the lack of methane pollution and animal waste runoff. An inefficient use of waste causes an entire host of environmental problems. And that goes back to the source of this class. When we fail to effectively use our waste, we must find more resources to extract! For those wanting more information, there’s the Waste to Energy Research and Technology Council site. http://www.seas.columbia.edu/earth/wtert/.
Finally, for a different take on reuse and recycling, resource recovery centers are developing. People may bring any non-hazardous materials to these sites, where they are refurbished or have useful parts removed and reused. One such site even has a recycled goods store on site. http://www.darebin.vic.gov.au/page/page.asp?Page_id=4813.
It’s been said by economists that waste is a symptom of the inefficient use of resources. With the plethora of opportunities arising to reuse, recapture, and rehabilitate our resources, and turn them into energy and goods, it would be an absolute shame if pro-extraction forces win so easily that something like fracking seems sensible. In fact, it makes no sense. It is laziness and easy-answer-extraction incarnate. We need to think of ways to use what already reduces our quality of life to enhance it.