In waste we have an opportunity. Some of the things we think we cannot afford could be attained if we were more thoughtful about what we left at the curb. If we think of waste as not something to be taken away but rather, as a resource to be harnessed, we would find sources of untapped wealth in our community.
For instance, how do we afford to grow food locally when it is so expensive to do it ourselves and so much cheaper to buy at a supermarket chain? That is too complex a question to answer fully here but if we take a minute to think about what is needed to grow food, a lot of it is in the nutrients we must put into the soil to have a good crop yield. We throw away tons of nutrients in the form of the food scraps and other compostable material in our household trash. If, instead, we put those food scraps in a compost system we would have a valuable source of nutrients to support soil health that would grow nutritious food, while also reducing the trash sent to a landfill. Fewer bags of trash saves us money and reduces the costs to the town which we pay through our taxes. Tax money is now available for supporting other necessities like police and fire. Less trash extends the life of the landfill and less biodegradable material going there means less methane gas being generated -a powerful greenhouse gas. See the tabs above for ideas and project to reduce our waste and to discover some resources.
Why do we have to use those costly, wimpy orange bags to throw out trash?
The Pay As You Throw program is great for Ashland. It makes it clear where our tax dollars are going and gives residents control over how much we each spend on disposal. In fact, towns who do not have trash restrictions end up paying to dispose other towns’ trash. Why? As landfill space becomes more scarce, the cost of disposal increases. Towns have to carve out more and more of their budget to pay for disposal, cutting other town services like Police, Fire, schools, etc. Towns with foresight, like ours, adopt Pay As You Throw to incentivize recycling, composting and overall waste reduction. As towns carve out more and more of their budget to pay for disposal, they will have to cut other town services like Police, Fire, schools, etc. Why? Because people who try to avoid paying for the disposal will find other ways of disposing their trash -usually, in other towns. Often, a friend or a relative in another town (that does not have Pay As You Throw) sympathizes and allows the person to drop off their trash at their curb so their friend can avoid the cost of the bags. Unfortunately for the sympathetic person, their doing this raises the costs of their own town’s disposal costs. As towns neighboring a Pay As You Throw town start to feel the pinch of high disposal costs, they start restricting their residents too. It is believed that in the future, all towns will have Pay As You Throw. By being one of the few towns in the area to adopt Pay As you Throw, we are keeping ahead of waste disposal problems and maintaining a more healthy town budget that can afford the valuable town services without raising taxes.
But why do I have to pay for the expensive orange bags? Why can’t I just use my own?
You are not so much paying for a garbage bag as you are paying for permission to throw out a certain amount of trash. By paying the yearly base fee plus the costs of the bags, you are seeing exactly how much of your tax dollars are going to waste disposal. If you choose to continue to throw out large amounts of trash, you may do so, but you will pay a higher “tax” than your neighbors who recycle and compost. It is important to note, however, that the following materials are banned from landfills: Newspapers, junk mail, office paper, plastic food containers (1-7), glass containers, metal food containers, yard waste, used engine oil, fluorescent light bulbs, white goods (washers, dryers, refrigerators, etc.), and building construction materials. Remember, by making the costs of disposal more visible, the town prevents rising disposal costs from quietly eating away at valued town services.
What is wrong with throwing trash in a landfill?
Landfill space is scarce. Rhode Island only has one landfill and it is running out of space. RI has no space to build another one so once that landfill is out of operation, Rhode Island will have to ship its solid waste to other states. Which states? Massachusetts? Connecticut? New York? We are all in the same boat. The Northeast is made up of small but densely populated states -we don’t have the space to dump our waste at the rate we have been anymore. Futhermore, it is bad for us http://www.no-burn.org/section.php?id=86.
Not only preventing the filling of landfills and all the pollution they create, recycling and composting takes useful resources and gives them repeated lifecycles that in turn prevent the devastating mining that is literally resurfacing the earth. Take a look at photographer, Edward Burtynsky’s work documenting the mining that pollutes and destroys landscapes:
What about organic matter like food scraps? That breaks down in the landfill, leaving more space for other trash -right?
Not really. In order for organic material to break down, microorganisms need light, air and moisture to survive and thrive. Instead, in a landfill environment, organic matter stays relatively intact. -totally preserved carrot tops from the 1970s and perfectly readable newspapers a hundred years old have been found in landfills. These things take up space needlessly and their nutrients are wasted. What’s worse is that in this environment, organic matter generates methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20% more potent than CO2. That’s right, your dinner scraps in the garbage can are hastening global warming. An easy way to avoid this is to start a compost system in your yard. In a compost system, there is the balance of light, air and moisture in which micro organisms need to break down organic matter into the finished compost we love to use for our yards and gardens.
Shouldn’t we be getting businesses and organizations to compost instead of just putting aside their coffee grounds?
Yes! In the future, we would love to start a curbside compost pick-up in Ashland! But first, let’s start with used coffee grounds. They are a lot easier to work with than food scraps with fewer things to go wrong.
What about incineration?
Incineration is worse because it burns up materials and makes their pollutants now breathable, creating a ton of health problems: http://www.no-burn.org/section.php?id=86
We already recycle -what else can we do?
Compost! Composting is a great way to reduce trash going to a landfill. There are so many compost systems that there is bound to be one to fit your needs. We recommend taking advantage of the program through the town that sells a bio digester composter at half price. We have used this design ourselves with great success.
What is compost and how do you do it?
Composting is a nature’s way of breaking down (biodegradable) waste and making it useful again as a soil amendment. To do it, you need three parts brown material (carbon) to one part green material (nitrogen). Autumn leaves make a great brown material to mix your kitchen scraps with. If you are concerned about attracting animals, purchase a composter through the town (they are animal proof). Once you put the composter together and attach it to the ground, fill it to the brim with autumn leaves. Set up a trash can with a lid next to it and fill that too with leaves (really pack them in). Then, when winter comes, you will have a steady source of leaves that are not frozen solid or covered in snow. -You can compost all year long! After about two months, there should be fully composted material at the bottom of the container. If you are using the bio digester design that the town sells, there is a small door at the bottom where you can harvest the composted material.
I am not a gardener so why should I compost?
Composting is not just for gardeners! Composting is a great way to minimize harmful methane from forming in a landfill. Methane does not form in a composting environment of air flow, moisture, microorganisms and a balance of carbon and nitrogen. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is hastening Climate Change. Furthermore, we are running out of landfill space. It is best to leave valuable nutrients out of there where they only take up space and put them where they can do some good. You don’t have to garden to use the composted material. Compost is a great weed and feed for your lawn, you could put it around trees and bushes, etc. If you don’t have a lawn or garden, you could even put the composted material in the woods.
Wouldn’t it be costly to have Municipal Composting?
The state is moving in the direction of requiring that organic waste be composted. Next year, all universities and colleges will be required to compost their waste. Eventually, large companies and public schools will be too. We simply do not have the landfill space. Furthermore, landfills contribute to air pollution and create methane gas, hastening Global Warming. Should Ashland take a leadership role in bringing municipal composting to our town, we would be eligible for many state grants to help us achieve this goal.