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Sierra Daily

Jun 27, 2012

Waste Not, Want Rot

 According to the EPA, more than a quarter of America's municipal solid waste consists of food scraps and yard trimmings--some 33 million tons a year. Only paper and cardboard, at 28.5%, take up a larger chunk of the garbage can. Once this fine organic material is dragged off to the landfill, it rots away, producing more than 20% of all U.S. emissions of methane, a global-warming gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Here's the EPA's breakdown of the nation's trash can:

Over at Ezra Klein's Wonkblog, Brad Plumer considers the effects of all that waste. While nearly half the world's garbage is organic matter, he notes, less than 2% is recycled or composted.

Excuse me, but that's just lame. In my neighborhood in Berkeley, California, Wednesday is garbage day. This morning I rolled our three bins out to the street: A big green bin for food scraps, butter wrappers, pizza boxes, milk cartons, and yard waste; a medium sized bin divided in two, half for glass, cans, and plastics and half for paper and cardboard; and a small bin for the stray bits of plastic and metal left over. The city diverts 34,000 tons of organic waste every year, and has a participation rate of 70% and growing. There's an added bonus: Once a month, we can go down to the city's waterfront to pick up as much beautiful compost and mulch as we can carry, all for free.

Nearly 100 cities have similar municipal composting programs. Why not yours?

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.


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