I regret that I've been tied up on a project and have not kept current with the backdraft from some of the newspaper articles that I have posted. Having just begun to catch up, though, I would very much like to make a stab at clearing the air, beginning with an explanation of the relationship between global warming and recycling, and finishing with my mea culpa on evangelicalism.
For those whose interests lie in recycling writ small and narrow, you can just pass on or delete all this.
RELATIONSHIP OF GLOBAL WARMING TO RECYCLING
Seventeen years after the Mobro barge slipped out of Long Island Sound looking for a home for its cargo of trash, recycling (other than for high grade paper, non-ferrous metals and those who have ridden recent export markets) largely still hangs on by tender hooks when market highs are averaged with the inevitable lows that follow.
Along with those for virgin materials, the environmental and tax subsidies for landfilling heads the list of reasons why this is so, because diversion competes most directly with disposal. If landfilling is underpriced, recycling finds it that much more difficult to compete in the marketplace, whose winds recycling is increasingly prey to as policy mandates wane.
Among the many environmental subsidies why this is so, and that I have endeavored to raise over the years, is the near complete failure of today's landfill designs under Subtitle D of RCRA to prevent the release of toxic substances into the environment, especially in the future.
Included in that litany is the inability to prevent the contemporaneous release of most of the gases generated in landfills, 46%-50% of which is methane, a greenhouse gas more than 21 times as virulent as CO2. Although hard data does not exist, based upon what is known, almost certainly less than 25%, and probably less than 20% of the lifetime emissions are actually captured. The vast majority of methane emitted from in landfills, which does not exist in the garbage we discard, but instead is generated in significant quantities only in the anaerobic (or oxygen starved) conditions of large lined landfills, adds substantially to mankind's climate-changing gases, very likely in the U.S. greater than 10% of the total.
Compounding all this is the fact that the landfill industry has essentially acknowledged that current landfill designs based upon liners intended to stabilize the waste only postpones rather than prevents pollution. That is because, eventually, those barrier systems will degrade. Indeed, Europe has recognized that we are unable to safely manage decomposable matter in the ground because we cannot contain the leachate and gases that mobilize the hazardous and dangerous compounds from trash. For that reason, in 1999, the EC issued a Landfill Directive ordering the phase out of organics in landfills. One of the ways that this is being met is by significantly increasing composting. Another is by energy recovery from separated organic streams, and yet another by incineration.
In the U.S., on the other hand, where solid waste regulation has long since ceased to exist, the landfill industry has succeeded in getting a rule from EPA which, in direct violation of RCRA that mandates the agency to issue federal minimum standards, has delegated to the States whether to allow, and if so whether to impose any substative requirements on, a second generation version of landfilling, called bioreactors.
Completing reversing their position, landfill companies now concede that it is impossible to stabilize a landfill by keeping it dry over the long term, and instead, now argue that, rather than attempting to keep the waste dry and stable, it should be flooded with liquids in an attempt to accelerate decomposition. Raising moisture levels from 20% to 45%-65% in landfills, most of which today are manmade mountains several hundred feet high held back by little more than a 2 foot berm and plastic tarp, essentially liquifies it to the consistency of a marsh.
In addition to major questions over whether the mountain of trash, embracing tens of millions of tons of garbage, will come crashing down in massive landslides, as has already happened on a small scale during limited testing -- beyond concerns about how the liner and leachate collection systems will hold up with all those recirculating liquids -- is the question about what hapens to gas collection.
The same rapid decomposition not only compresses much of the lifetime gas collection to the early years of a landfill's life, but, in the heterogenous environment of a landfill, causes differential settlement, making it very difficult to maintain collection piping. In addition, a seal in the form of a final cover including a plastic sheet is delayed in bioreactors for more than 10 years -- the same time period during which much of the lifetime gas generation is compressed -- in order increase profits by recovering airspace, even though gas collection systems, that depend upon a vacuum to draw gases, don't work without it. In the absence of a seal, oxygen from the surface is inadvertently also drawn into the perforated piping and mixed with the methane, a highly explosive and dangerous situation. Taken together, gas collection in bioreactors is problemmatic at best, and destined to dramatically increase the uncontrolled release of near term climate change gases over dry tomb landfills.
We are in the midst of finalizing a major report documenting this statement, and when that is done, I'll post it on the web, and email notice of that to Greenyes for those who would like to become more informed about the technical details.
With global warming taking center stage -- and rightly so -- it is landfill's inability to prevent adding so much to climate change gases that will carry recyclers message to a far greater degree than the more commonly understood issues of drinking water contamination.
In hindsight, I should have prefaced the plethora of clips I've thown over Greenyes's transom on global warming with this explanation of its relevance to recyclers. You may see from the length of this posting why I hesitated so long to do so.
MEA CULPA FOR ANY UNTOWARD INFERENCE TO EVANGELICALS
Although raised in a secular household, I've read most of the library shelf on Jesus, not in an evangelical sense, but, in awe, to feel and, somewhat, to understand the beauty to which humanity at its best can rise.
While I still believe that religion and science should respect the province of the other, and for that reason wither at suggestions that evolution taught in biology classes should bend to the Christian Bible, after the election I've come to the conclusion that both sides are leading our society over the cliff.
True, the evangelical side is in the cat bird's seat today, but I am old enough to remember the 60's and 70's when the shoe was on the other foot, and people like David Suskind on public television would snottily look his nose down at the religious.
There are few saints in the political melee that followed Roe v. Wade, but that doesn't change the salient fact that we all need to appreciate going forward.
Namely, that is this. We all co-habitate in the same country, and there we breath the same air and drink the same water, as will our children and, we hope, our children's children. In the end, whether we like it or not, we need to find a way to live in comity with each other in mutual respect instead of conniving to find a knock out punch of the other side. For neither side is going to be packed off and sent away somewhere, no matter who wins any particular election.
When, as Rev. Leroy Hedman's letter demonstrates, there are so many many overlaps, it would be a crying shame to pass up the challenge.
Global warming, with its connections to creation and sustainability would be a grand place to start.
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