If ever there was a time to get serious about zero waste, this is it. The state of Vermont has officially decided to shut down the Moretown Landfill, run by Advanced Disposal. While that company has appealed the decision, the move impacts central Vermont — and the whole state — on a variety of levels, ranging from how Moretown will fund its town budget to where our trash will go. A potential question here is: What if we opted to use this opportunity to live without landfills altogether?
What if we invested in infrastructure that supported zero waste, rather than unlimited waste? What if there were more places such as the Additional Recyclables Collection Center in Barre, enabling people to divert unwanted items out of the landfill and into recycling and reuse streams?
Landfills create problems, be it from odor, lack of space, capacity reached or — perhaps most importantly — the environmental impact of methane (a greenhouse gas 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide). Methane is released as a result of landfilled organic matter, which is 21 to 40 percent of waste. As we look to greener energy and ways to reduce our carbon footprint, let us not forget our methane footprint (something we can significantly reduce simply by composting).
The online journal EcoSeed reports, “For more than two decades, the number of landfills in the U.S. has steadily dropped, from 7,924 in 1988 to 1,654 in 2005, according to the Environmental Protection Agency … (which also finds that) Americans produce over 250 million tons of municipal solid waste. That is roughly 4.43 pounds of trash per person per day.”
But does that have to be so? What if we created no waste? San Francisco recently opted to go from 80 percent to 100 percent zero waste by 2020. Coincidentally, mandatory recycling and organics diversion go fully into effect in Vermont that same year.
Every day, new institutions achieve or commit to zero waste, often with phased-in goals much like Vermont’s Act 148 (which phases in the diversion mentioned above). The U.S. Army has created five net zero waste pilot installations, including at Fort Hood. The money saved funds programs that enhance the lives of soldiers and their families. Many universities are committing to eliminating waste, including Ohio State, Arizona State, American and North Carolina. Corporations such as Honda, GM, Tom’s of Maine, Wal-Mart, Unilever and DuPont among hundreds more have gone zero waste, saving millions of dollars in the process.
Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District “has been calling for zero waste for over a decade,” says its general manager, Leesa Stewart. “Perhaps the time has come to consider that maybe, in the long run, we don’t need landfills. Maybe we need to change the infrastructure.”
By changing infrastructure, Stewart refers to encouraging growth of composting businesses, needed to continue diverting the thousands of tons of organic matter dumped into landfills yearly. She also points to the need for the district’s Additional Recyclables Collection Center at 3 Williams Lane in Barre, and support for reuse businesses.
The collection center provides a place for people who want to go beyond regular recycling and drop off various items to be reused or recycled. Residents can bring CDs, DVDs, VHS and audio cassettes, books, textiles, batteries, small electronics, liquid latex paint and much more to the center.
The collection center provides the beginning of an infrastructure based around zero waste, rather than one that presumes unlimited disposal. We know from experience that our current model does not provide a long-term solution that sustains our health and environment. Perhaps it’s time to consider a new one.
Corporations, universities, cities, nations and even the U.S. Army have committed to zero waste because the practice makes sense; it is both environmentally responsible and cost-effective. This particularly hits home now that costs may rise to ship garbage all the way to our only remaining landfill for municipal waste, in Coventry, or out of state. The closing of the Moretown Landfill provides us a clear choice: Keep generating levels of waste we can no longer handle, or start opting out of the waste culture and instead choose to be more mindful about our consumption; to use less and reuse more.
Although our waste disposal problems are great, we have tools to deal with them. We can take advantage of the many reuse businesses in Vermont; we can divert what we can to recycling and to places, like the Additional Recyclables Collection Center, which responsibly take care of items at the end of their life cycles. And we can make the easy switch from tossing food scraps into the trash to tossing them into the compost.
For more information about zero waste or details about the Additional Recyclables Collection Center, go to: www.cvswmd.org.
Cassandra Hemenway Brush is the zero waste outreach coordinator at Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District.MORE IN Commentary
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