Monday, October 27, 2008

Piled Higher and Deeper

One way to REDUCE your flow of garbage to our local landfills is to compost your food scraps from your kitchen. Composting is pretty simple, but if you need guidance you can take a short course at Emma Prusch Park or read more by clicking here.

I use a PHD approach, simply Piled Higher and Deeper. My compost pile is just that, a pile of dirt near my garden where I bury the contents of my compost bucket when it's full or getting too ripe for the kitchen. Actually, we separate some of our food scraps into other containers for the chickens or rabbits, which serves as some of the feed for our livestock, who then in turn contribute their manure for further enriching our garden's fertility.

But food scraps are actually the smallest component of my weekly disposal of unwanted stuff, which includes such things as packaging, bottles, cans, junk mail, newspapers, bill envelopes and stuffers. There's also paper scraps from my wife's art work and broken or obsolete small appliances and electronics. All these items are placed religiously into our RECYCLE bins.

If you live in San Jose, you know that we no longer need to separate our recycling into different bins, although I still do. A former Director of Environmental Services, Carl Mosher, thought it would be more "cost effective" to have residents dump all their recyclables into a 96-gallon wheeled cart and have paid workers separate it at a central processing plant.

This one ill-conceived decision led to the downfall of one San Jose mayor and his would-be successor. The new garbage cart would, in theory, eliminate the need for one teamster from the collection crew and be replaced with lower cost workers at the separation conveyor belt who would belong to a different union.

But the Teamsters did not take well to this elimination of a quarter of their drivers, so they demanded that the separation crew be members of the Teamsters union, and the cost would be an extra $5 million over the duration of the contract.

Mayor Ron Gonzales met with the garbage company officials and soon realized that he was in a lose-lose situation. If the Teamsters didn't get their way, they would call for a strike and his political career would soon be in serious jeopardy. Instead, he agreed to get the company the extra money that the teamster-separators would cost, but tried to hide the reason from the council and the public. This eventually led to a grand jury indictment and a call for his resignation by the press and some of the council members.

All this political brouhaha was brought on by one civil(ization) engineer who used economics alone to make a societal shift away from personal responsibility for the materials San Jose residents purchased and throw away (even though there is no away) When residents were using recycling bins to separate their cans, bottles, paper and cardboard, they were providing both a valuable ($5million) volunteer service for City and informally taking a measure of the type and amount of recyclables they were consuming and then disposing.

This personal consumption information may not be the knowledge quest of most people, although as we "green up"our lifestyles to avoid global warming, it might start to be of more general interest. However, yesterday, I read about an environmental studies professor who started a project to save and log all his garbage for a full 365 days. Now he's going to practice Piled Higher and Deeper more than he or his family ever imagined.

PostScript: If you are planning to have a party for Halloween or later in the year, you might want to read this post about greener partying.


Never Thirst! Pat Ferraro said...

Thank you, Pat, for your many years of work regarding water issues and your dedication to preventing pollution. It is my hope that Friends of Coyote Creek will devote some time and energy to pursuing solutions to pollution prevention so that we don't always have to be cleaning up trash. Removing rafts of trash does help to keep it out of the Bay and the Pacific Ocean, but it does not even begin to address the petrochemicals and other invisible pollutants. ~Marley Spilman

Never Thirst! Pat Ferraro said...

Thanks Marley.

There's some good programs at both the county-wide level and at the city.
But taking it down to Neighbor-to-Neighbor, we can have the most impact.