Archive for February, 2012

The Green Economy Starts at Home

February 12, 2012

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.