The Green Economy Starts at Home

I’m digging into our kitchen garbage can to recover items that someone threw into the wrong bin. It’s become a ritual of sorts.

I find eggshells from this morning’s breakfast, a paper cup, a couple of torn plastic bags and a banana peel.

My husband rolls his eyes and says “yes, yes” as I start my lecture about how every little action counts.

We live in a country that produces more municipal waste per capita than most nations, and where nearly 66 percent of the 250 million tons of garbage we generated in 2010 ended up in landfills.

This is bad news because garbage dumps are a major producer of methane gas in the United States and many other countries. Methane is that often-overlooked greenhouse gas that is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and thus a major contributor to climate change.

(Anybody noticed some strange weather lately?)

Thankfully, I happen to live in a town where a recycling truck does rounds every week to pick up cardboard, plastics, tin cans and other items destined for a second life. Leaves and other yard waste is collected separately and composted into mulch that is later sold back to home owners.

More than 40 percent of my town’s waste was recycled in 2011 through these voluntary programs, which everybody I know participates in.

It makes us part of a rapidly growing, green economy that is generating millions of dollars in revenue for forward-looking businesses and thousands of new jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

Our milk cartons, wine bottles, magazines, and empty cans are hauled to a nearby recycling sorting plant owned by Waste Management, one of the largest garbage collection and recycling companies in the United States.

The 85 million tons of trash that were recycled or composted in the U.S. in 2010 kept about 186 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere. That is equivalent to taking 36 million cars off the road for a year.

What’s more, some of Waste Management’s workers who are not already busy recycling are now in the business of turning landfill methane gas into energy or fuel for trucks.

Of course, the less garbage we generate in the first place, the better off our communities and environment will be.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to build landfills in our country and for good reason. In the past, many dumps were located in poor and rural areas where people didn’t have the resources or power to fight pollution.

Environmental regulations of such facilities have increased, but people’s willingness to live next-door to a garbage dump has not.

This is where America’s growing, $14-billion recycling industry comes in. Worldwide, this industry is now worth $200 billion, on par with the gross domestic product of countries such as Portugal and Malaysia, the Bureau of International Recycling reports.

Those banana peel and egg shells I dig out of our kitchen garbage have a job, too. They end up in a compost bin in our back yard where food scraps are slowly transformed into rich soil for the garden.

The compost bin is my very own, green economy.

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38 Responses to “The Green Economy Starts at Home”

  1. Gurmehar Singh Says:

    It reminds of a quote by the father of our nation Mahatma Gandhi – Be the change, you want to see in the world.

  2. Jee Says:

    You are lucky. I live in a small apartment and don’t have the room to do my own composting. I heard that Common Good City Farm is picking up food scraps for their community garden. Not sure if they still do…

  3. Luke J Says:

    Jee: There are ways to compost in small urban locations, too. Check out this article: http://www.thedailygreen.com/living-green/blogs/organic-parenting/how-to-compost-in-the-city-47072202.

    I’m not sure how composting offsets the need to use an electric composter, though!

  4. Lynn Evans Says:

    Great article! Our consumer culture isn’t very environmentally friendly, is it? :(. I think about all the excess packing that is used for products – from food in the grocery store, to small products that are mailed in huge boxes with lots of bubble wrap and peanuts, to going shopping at my favorite stores and having my clothes wrapped and my bag stuffed with tissue paper. There is excess everywhere.

    As you noted, It’s really important for everyone to start making changes at home, at work and at school to make sure items that can be composted or recycled are not discarded into the garbage can. Also, we should educate others about what they can do and how their small actions make a huge impact on the planet.

    As consumers we should be more conscious and try to buy products that use less packaging.We must take action, each and eveyone of us!!!

  5. Karin Rives Says:

    I agree that our waste of packaging in the Western world is disheartening! A positive development is that some cities in the United States, including Washington, D.C., have started to levy a small tax for plastic bags that are passed on to shoppers when they pay. Cashiers I’ve talked to tell me that lots more people are bringing reusable bags as a result. That is a great policy that not only reduces consumption of plastic bags, but also brings in much-needed revenue for local governments.

  6. Sophie Says:

    Wonderful article, as usual! Glad to see I’m not the only one who lectures family and surreptitiously puts things in the right bins :)

  7. Linnea Says:

    Karin did a great job on designing the blog and finding the name!:)

  8. schillindarAdelstal Says:

    I WannaBeGreen!

    I am fortunate to have two “lives”, one compact living in the center of Stockholm and one in our little red countryside cottage. My urban life is mostly about getting time and energy meet needs and demands. Our apartment building provides us with the possibility to recycle paper, glass, metal, and batteries. Lovely, if I only could get everyone else to follow suite. I often find myself hanging over the bins to fish up stuff placed in the wrong place. There I find recycling a hassle more than anything else.

    In our country-side cottage I am not a wannabe but really a green and responsible person. And that makes me feel good. I felt proud when I could phone the municipal garbage collecting company to tell them that I only need them to come once a month. Paper, metal, glass goes to recycling and food and green waste goes to the compost. We even pee on our plants, and gosh do they bloom with whatever our “waste” brings them. I feel in control. The world can stop producing – I can manage by myself (at least during the three months of summer) – I will still have potatoes and strawberries.

    At the moment I have a third life with a different green twist. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the little green life I have is “thanks” to poverty. Jonas brings our newspapers to his sister who turns them into bags to sell samosas; our bottles go to WonderWelders (http://www.wonderwelders.org/about.php) where handicapped people turn them into wonderful things. No food waste – there is always someone who is longing for a lunch long after we are fed up with whatever is in the leftover box. And the garbage collected every Sunday? Well, it might be garbage to me, but certainly not for the guys who smilingly empties my smelly bin. Being green here obviously does not bring the same satisfaction as it does in our country-home. Instead if offers me the opportunity to reflect on the value of things; of what I really need and don´t need, and the insight that the order of the world with a few of us having an abundance, and many others having less than needed is not the world we want.

    Keep up the good work Karin. Welcome to share our strawberries.

  9. Karin Says:

    You point out what so many of us living in wealthy and wasteful nations forget: The stuff we throw would be riches to the world’s poor. It’s true that some of the food that lands in my compost sat too long in our fridge because nobody felt like eating it.
    That is true waste in a world where 1 billion people struggle to feed themselves. All I can do is to try to waste less so maybe, one day, they will have a little more in our finite world.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    I put that banana peel in the compost, BTW…

  11. Jo Says:

    Tanzania sounds like they are ahead of Uganda in organizing creative uses for waste. I was discouraged during my 10month stay there in 2011 that there were not more ways in which I could recycle when obvious need was all around us. Thankfully our hired cooks/housecleaners did a good job of taking our multiple discarded plastic and glass bottles and made sure they served some useful purposes. I was happy and amused to see neighborhood children reuse our empty cooking oil “Geri cans” to create a makeshift toboggan! Have to put an effort wherever we go, and I tried to do so while traveling in east Africa. It’s slowly catching on the wealthiest used to take for granted or even take pleasure in having the luxury to “waste” leftovers, I was beginning to see a shift in the attitudes. Keep blogging to raise awareness near and far.

  12. Monty Hagler Says:

    Clear, concise and compelling. This blog post is a testament to how each of us can take action and make a positive impact on our world. Thanks for sharing.

  13. livehealthierandwealthier Says:

    Thanks for sharing. So many people just don’t think about the “simple” things we can all do to help protect our planet. I know many cities don’t have recycle “pick up”, so people have to load up their recyclables and take them to the recycle center, which is a little more time consuming but definitely worth it. Thanks again for the information.

  14. Meet the Top 10 Finalists in World Environment Day Blogging Contest Says:

    [...] their posts below:Kendra Pierre-Louis – Hacking into the Green Economy Karin Rives – The Green Economy Starts at Home Carissa Welton – (The Art of) Greening the Economy Jessi Stafford – Winning blog post: [...]

  15. Mitesh Says:

    Hi,
    Nice post.Its really an informative and encouragubg post. I recently interviewed Dr. Dr. Amiya Kumar Sahu, President and founder of NSWAI (National Solid Waste Association of India)

    He too had some synergistic points. You can find the interview here
    http://www.greenarth.com/blog/dr-amiya-sahu

  16. nicola baird Says:

    Good piece – anyone who starts in their own rubbish bin getting their significant other to roll their eyes at them is brave. Nicola
    http://aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com and http://homemadekids.wordpress.com

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