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Re: [greenyes] Incineration vs. landfill

Here in rural Nebraska I help schoolchildren look at the 8 components of MSW (Paper, Wood, Food, Plastics, Glass, Metal, Yard Waste, Other). All of this is recyclable and/or reusable, but in local (statewide sans Lincoln & Omaha) practice, the vast majority of it ends up in our landfills. So, assuming that hazardous wastes would always come first on Rod Muir's list, we look at what should be removed from the waste stream in terms of whether it is made from renewable resources and how long it takes to biodegrade. This yields a removal list of:

Plastics (from a nonrenewable resource and NEVER biodegrades=permanent pollution. There is NO PLACE to recycle #3-7 plastics in NE!)
Metal (from a nonrenewable resource and takes 500+ years to biodegrade)
Glass (from a renewable resource but takes 3000 years to biodegrade)
Other (this category is largely fabrics and rubber, both made from renewable resources)
Yard Waste

Certainly there is room for lots of debate on the order of Metal, Glass and Other. Also more needs to be known about the components in the Other category to make this analysis feasible.

But bear in mind the perspective: I am still at the basic level of simply attempting to instill a recycling discipline and raise awareness of where things come from and where they go for people in a very rural area. The discipline here has been to throw waste in a ditch on your farm, burn it, or toss it all in a dumpster if you live in town. Curbside recycling is unheard of, and there is no market for it even if local agencies would consider it.

This mentality about waste goes back several generations. The concept of running out of natural resources to make consumables or space to throw them away when you're finished with them is entirely foreign to rural folks in my area. There is a strong undercurrent of belief that God/Mother Nature/The Earth will compensate, and provide for Man indefinitely. When I talk about ecology and economics to these kids, their eyes glaze over. Often my fallback for encouraging elementary rural schoolchildren to consider the problem of waste is based on: 1) what's harmful to the environment hurts animals (this works well for younger kids), 2) you can get money for recyclables, and 3) habitat destruction translates to loss of hunting ground (witness the unlikely but fast-growing bedfellowship between environmentalists and hunters opposing Bush admin policies).

For the most part, incineration in my area is not even a dirty word: I recently heard the mayor of a local town proclaim before a crowd of 200+ that tire burning, even without hazardous waste controls, is preferable to risking the spread of West Nile Virus. (Tire dumping in rural areas is very common practice.) Here, as anywhere else, foresight, ethics and logic-and-science-based comparisons of risks and alternatives take a back seat to emotion, short-term economics and resistance to change.

I don't stop preaching the ecological points of view of course, but when you're dealing at the level I am, one must be very pragmatic. I applaud, learn from, and deeply envy all of you dealing in more progressive areas of technical analysis, program design, legislative approaches, etc. As it is, my one-woman crusade as the local "Recycling Lady" is all-volunteer, and the work so consuming I don't have time to apply for a grant, much less begin to negotiate local govt processes, lobby businesses, etc.

I put this perspective out for you to consider in all your analyses about landfilling and waste processing. When I lived in northern California, I wrongly assumed the rest of the nation was as aware of and as concerned about waste issues as I was. But there is still a great need in this country to address the very basics of awareness and practice. An alarming number people are still 50+ years behind the times in this respect.

Nancy Meyer

----- Original Message -----
From: "Rod" <rodmuir@no.address>
To: <greenyes@no.address>
Sent: Friday, March 26, 2004 11:52 AM
Subject: [greenyes] Incineration vs. landfill

I wonder, if we might approach this from another direction.
Presuming that for the near term we need to either burn or bury waste
my question has always been
what are the items in the waste stream you most certainly want to remove
after traditional recycling prior to disposal

My list based on average (?) knowledge.

>From landfill
(While you may capture some gas compost 50 feet underground is of no value.
We must be returning soil to our increasingly depleted farmland)

>From incineration

>From both
Batteries (cad. & lead)
Thermostats thermometers (mercury)

Such a list could perhaps be used to prioritize zero waste initiatives

I would welcome further additions
Rod Muir
Waste Diversion Canada

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