Climate Local Now: Think in cycles without going in circles

by Mark Haubner

I always liked going to what we called “the dump” when I was a kid – free bikes, cupboards, car parts – all the garbage my grandma told me was another man’s treasure. We are now more politically correct and it is not “the dump” but “the dump” now – but we continue to dump whether we like it or not. And standing under the 300 foot mountain of Brookhaven Landfill again this month and not seeing many “good things” left, I realized that we had been fouling our own nest for many decades.

The short-term lifespan of garbage

The last two landfills on Long Island will close by 2024, just two years from now, and we’re covering them with crushed glass, which not only has no market value, but we have to pay to get rid of it. Ironically, the EPA does not view glass as a “recyclable material” but rather as a “reused material” meaning that it can be recycled almost an infinite number of times, unlike aluminum which has a lifespan. 11 times recycling life and about 7 paper before it is worthless.

Without value ? I watch how the world works when we don’t interfere with it – trees grow and nourish the soil when they drop their leaves in place. Cows poop pretty much anywhere they want and both plants and soil are provided. Humans are the only entity that creates real waste – even rocks degrade to sand and can act as a carbon sink over long periods of time.

The medium-term fate of garbage

Meanwhile, we are faced with sending everything that is not thrown in the landfill to the giant incinerators on our island – incinerators that produce carbon emissions and toxic ash, which is then either brought back into landfill space, either put on a truck to take up space in disregarded land in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Ohio. (Remember “The Long Island Garbage Barge” in 1987? Have you ever seen a flatbed truck on the highway with 2 ton bales of garbage securely wrapped in giant sheets of thick fiberglass? to keep for a thousand years?)

Project Drawdown identifies the sources and volumes of carbon dioxide and methane from our waste in thousands of tonnes each day. Food waste, construction debris, storm debris, unrecovered recyclables and incinerator ash are the basic components, and we know the numbers on our island. The threat of the waste itself is great, but having to load everything onto trucks to drive our already intolerably congested highways is even greater. Brake dust, tire particles and diesel fumes are the other side of the human health equation and everything is toxic.

The long-term success of household waste

During long discussions with people who know the waste industry, we are convinced that we cannot recycle to get out of this mess and that we need to reduce the amounts of waste that everyone produces each day. One third of household waste is food waste. A quarter of municipal waste is construction debris. Another third is made up of general household waste.

While it takes a tremendous amount of thought, time and effort, we need to embrace a mindset that reflects the workings of the planet itself (biomimicry) and create a system that doesn’t just recycle easily identifiable materials. , but a system that is circular in nature and feeds all the stops along the way.

There is an opportunity for the construction of several glass recycling facilities and for cottage industries that use the raw material of the recovered glass.

Food waste, when properly combined with yard waste, becomes incredibly rich compost, and in the next stage of production becomes what is marketed in other states as Milorganite. It’s another opportunity for Long Islanders, one that only scratches the surface of the economic benefits.

Our work is tailored for us

We can easily reduce our household food waste; we can get our elected officials to approach these issues constructively; we can adopt building designs that create buildings that can be dismantled at the end of their useful life; and we can create a community Repair Café that prevents our belongings from becoming rubbish. Becoming a zero waste society will not start when we create a law or a recovery center, but when we become true stewards of everything we consume, from extraction to manufacturing until the day we have to part with it. .

We’ve got to the point where we need to stop going around in circles and start thinking in cycles.


Mark Haubner has been recycling newspapers since 1965, and not seeing his example followed by everyone on the planet, he started learning science communication about 6 years ago. He obtained a certificate in Sustainability and Behavior Change from the University of California at San Diego (the daily commute was grueling) and now writes community social marketing programs for the various nonprofits he is involved with. .

Climate Local Now is a partnership between East End Beacon and Drawdown East End, whose mission is to inspire local solutions to reverse global warming. | DrawdownEastEnd.org

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