David S. McRobert wrote a book called There Is No Place Called “Away” Why Exporting Garbage Is Not Sustainable or Sensible. If you are taking garbage out to the curb or a dumpster every week, then you are under the illusion, like most Americans, that because they don’t see the garbage any longer, that it is gone.
Every year, the typical American family throws out 2,460 pounds of paper, 540 pounds of metals, 480 pounds of glass and 480 pounds of food scraps. The amount of wood and paper we throw away each year is enough to heat 50 million homes for 20 years. Each gallon of gas used by a car contributes about 19 pounds of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere. For a single car driving 1,000 miles a month, that adds up to 120 tons of carbon-dioxide a year. Forty percent of food purchased ends up in a landfill.
I am watching The Time Machine where George has reached the time of the Eloi and the Morlocks when they blindly accepted cannibalism because they didn’t know anything else. We don’t have that excuse. We should know that we can do better. We can build a better world.
What Can We Do?
The first step in solving the problem is knowing that there is a problem. Second in realizing that we can do something about it. Eighty-four percent of a typical household’s waste — including food scraps, yard waste, paper, cardboard, cans, and bottles — we can recycle.
We can start by controlling how much we consume. Our society has taught us to blindly consume so that we can keep the monetary system that we gave going. We purchase things on credit so that banks can earn interest off our debt. The more we buy on credit, the more money is siphoned from our pockets.
We can start in our own backyards. We can learn composting and vermiculture to deal with our household and yard wastes. We can stop blindly consuming products. We can plan to eat all of the food we purchase. We can plan our driving so that we are not driving as many miles per month. Many of us can ride mass transit or bicycles or drive motorcycles instead of driving cars.
Wasting Clean Water
According to World Vision, nearly 1,000 children under age 5 die every day from diarrhea caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation, and improper hygiene. Here in the United States, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Trump is proposing to weaken water pollution standards for the power plant industry (known as the Steam Electric Effluent Limitations and Guidelines (ELG) rule). In 2015 EPA issued the first ever national pollution standards to limit the amount of arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and other harmful chemicals that power plants can dump into our water. These standards had not been updated since 1982 and led to the contamination of 23,000 miles of rivers and streams across the country, including drinking water sources. The 2015 technology-based standards required power plants to achieve zero discharge of fly ash and bottom ash wastewater and set strict limits on discharges of arsenic, mercury, selenium, and nitrogen in scrubber sludge wastewater.
EPA is proposing to weaken pollution limits for two of the largest and most toxic power plant waste streams — sludge from the scrubbers that remove pollutants from smokestack emissions and water used to flush coal ash from boilers (commonly known as bottom ash wastewater). The 2015 rule required a closed-looped/zero discharge system for water used to flush out coal ash in boilers, but now EPA wants to allow plants to discharge up to 10 percent of their bottom ash wastewater. EPA also wants to relax technology requirements for limiting pollutants such as selenium in scrubber sludge wastewater discharges. Its proposal even offers new loopholes for power plants that claim they will retire soon or only operate for a limited number of hours a year — allowing these plants to dump even more toxic pollution into our rivers and lakes. Power plants, mostly coal-fired, are the number one toxic water polluters in the country and they shouldn’t be allowed to continue to contaminate our nation’s water resources. Gutting these standards is a hand-out to the power plant industry at the expense of our health and our environment and our posterities future.
In addition, not only does our garbage go somewhere, but so does our own body wastes. Our body wastes don’t just go “away”, they are washed away with an average of 2 gallons of clean water every time we flush! Because the water is mixed with our body wastes, it becomes what is called black water which gets mixed in our sewer systems with gray water from our bathing, dishwashing, and clothes washing and gets flushed into sewer systems. In metropolitan systems the sewage is separated from the water and the water returned to the system, and the solid wastes are sent out to landfills for disposal. The waste products are placed in pits where they are buried and often their toxicity is leached back into the natural waterways and end up downstream and end up in the ocean. Every day, Americans produce 16 tons of sewage every minute, but no one ever talks about this. We think that as long as the water goes down the toilet or drain, we have nothing to worry about.
Not just our bodily wastes, but animal wastes are also a problem. You may be shocked to learn that one of the most important ways you can reduce your impact on the planet is to eat less meat and dairy and more plant-based food. Raising of livestock contributes 18% of humanity’s total impact on carbon emissions, more than the emissions from cars, trains, and planes combined.
Not to say that animals and animal protein is bad. Animals do play an important role when incorporated into farms. Cow/calf operations, like here in Southern Missouri, recycle nutrients by eating grass (not digestible by humans). Small permaculture type farms raise chickens which keep down insect pests by eating them and can also eat food waste. Pigs can also eat food wastes. These animals turn these into manure that fertilizes the soil which feeds plant crops.
HOWEVER, our current industrial agriculture system, most livestock are subjected to CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations). In the 1970s, agricultural policies led to smaller farms consolidating into big monocultures. Animals were removed from farm and squeezed into CAFOs and instead of using manure for fertilizer we increased our usage of synthetic fertilizers. In addition, this manure is so concentrated and anaerobic that the manure is no longer fit to use on fields. This system comes with many steep ecological, health, and humanitarian issues. The policy that bigger is better has not only harmed the animals, but the farmers as well.
We’ll discuss more about this subject in next week’s blog.