Hello readers! I come to you today to talk about waste. I know it’s definitely not the most appealing topic, but it’s such an environmental concern that I think the public needs more education about. My professor for this environmental studies class said something really interesting today when we were talking about the idea of “social sustainability.” This viewpoint advocates for people to “wallow in their own filth” more to really see what they’re creating and how it’s affecting the environment. We in more developed countries are so used to having other people take care of our trash FOR us. We don’t have to deal with the nastiness that is disposing of the pounds of trash we generate each day. So maybe if we DID have to deal with it, we’d see just how much waste we produce with our current lifestyle, and would then be more likely to cut down on consumption, recycle, and beg companies to stop using so much packaging.

This speaks to the part of me that is trying to use this blog to educate people more about the issues that face our communities. Even if you’re not living in Providence, or even Rhode Island, your city or community probably faces very similar issues when it comes to the topics I’ve been covering. I know that being from Hawaii, we are having to deal with the issue of too much waste, and not enough space in landfills. So please, take the time to learn a bit about all of this. Hopefully some of the things you learn from this post will help you “wallow in your own trash,” in the sense that you are inspired to create less waste. So here we go.

Most of the waste generated in Rhode Island is managed by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC). They are in charge of both solid waste and recyclables in the state. Their website says that they “stive to be economically sound and environmentally safe.” Obviously, those are good things to work towards. But a landfill in its definition, is a place where we dump (sometimes toxic or hazardous) waste, which makes it difficult to be anything but environmentally safe. Anyway, back on track from my commentary… RIRRC provides the services of sanitary landfilling, commercial composting, recyclables sorting and processing, small vehicle waste sorting area, and construction and demolition debris grinding.  They also encourage composting, which is a big environmental plus.

Central Landfill in Johnston, RI. (Image from: http://news.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/2012/01/31/seagulls.JPG)

Central Landfill in Johnston, RI. (Image from: http://news.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/2012/01/31/seagulls.JPG)

The largest landfill that handles Rhode Island’s trash is Central Landfill, in Johnston, RI. There are also smaller municipal landfills in Bristol, Charlestown, and Tiverton. Central Landfill sits on 1200 acres of land, about 230 of which are used for the landfill itself, with it rising about 200 feet from base to top. It manages about 2,500 tons of residential and commercial waste a day. This means that Rhode Islanders are producing a LOT of waste, because about 97% of Rhode Island is served by Central Landfill’s disposal services. Only non-hazardous waste is accepted, and spread in layers, compacted, and covered with organic and non-organic material, making it a “sanitary landfill.” It only accepts waste from this state.

In very recent news (this week!), Central Landfill was named one of New England’s 12 worst polluters, nicknamed the “Dirty Dozen.” This “award” is given by the Toxic Action Center to offenders who aren’t successfully cleaning up their messes, pose emergent threats to the environment, and have toxic hazards at their sites. RIRRC says this claim isn’t accurate. But there’s no denying that our landfill is creating environmental problems, as are many landfills. Those who helped make this declaration and “present the award” (like Jamie Rhodes, the director of Clean Water Action) believe that we need to increase recycling and reduce the waste stream to make sure this problem doesn’t get worse. They are also advocating for higher municipal tipping fees so that we’ll have more incentive to turn to recycling. Landfills are always going to be very bad polluters because it’s hard to stop the chemicals from leaching into the ground, affecting water supplies, and so on.

Another alarming piece of information about Central Landfill is that it is only projected to last Rhode Island about 23 more years. That is, if we continue at our current rates of waste production. This seems to tell me that Rhode Island should be figuring out ways to curb the amount of waste we produce. There are about three solutions to this problem: build a new landfill, ship Rhode Island’s waste elsewhere, or build an incinerator to deal with it. But all three have their problems. No municipality wants a landfill in their area (NIMBYism), shipping the waste would be very expensive and waste additional energy, and building a waste to energy facility like an incinerator is against the law if RIRRC is doing the planning, owning and operating. Shipping the waste out of the state is the most viable option right now, but that doesn’t really make sense environmentally. We need to be attacking the root cause of this issue, which is decreasing waste, instead of just trying to figure out more ways to deal with our overproduction of it. If you’d like to read more about the options Rhode Island has in dealing with waste, you can head over to http://www.ecori.org/waste-issues/2012/3/6/to-burn-or-to-bury-is-that-the-question.html.

Seeing these issues arise in Rhode Island show me just how pressing this issue is for so many parts of developing countries. This is a problem frequently brought up in my home state of Hawaii, where we are also running out of space in our landfills. Shipping trash out of state for us would mean a huge expense and use of energy too, because it involves getting it across an ocean. I think it is very important that people realize what an issue waste is, from the accumulation of it, the pollution it causes, and how it could be really easy to cut back on it. Sorry for the depressing (and kind of gross) nature of this post, but next time, I come to you with information about recycling, which should be more positive. 🙂 Until next time,