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Re: E-M:/ Solving our municipal waste problems ...



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Enviro-Mich message from Barbara Jean Madsen <bjmadsen@umich.edu>
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On Sat, 2 Nov 2002, Lowell Prag wrote:

>
> First, the overall conclusion of the European Commission study I cite,
> is that composting of municipal waste is the most economical method of
> processing, compared to landfills and incinerators, in addition to the
> environmental benefits.
>
Ah, that was not clear from your post.  Would it still be the most
economical method in the U.S., in light of our laws?

> Doing the same in Michigan is not a technical problem, as large scale
> systems are already available that can compost all of our municipal waste
> throughout the state.

Are these being used anywhere in the U.S.? It would be helpful to have
some examples.

>
>
> i.e: "Animal products (meat, fats, bones, etc.) and grease do not
> compost well and tend to attract scavenging animals"
>
> This is not true with anaerobic composting in large scale, closed vessel
> facilities. It has long been used to successfully compost huge quantities
> of every type of animal waste and is in fact, also used to compost the
> entire carcasses of all the animals which die on farms.
>
> In addition, the bacteria which create the composting process, produce
> very high temperatures which readily destroy the pathogens in the waste.
> All of this is already well documented and I won't belabor the point here.

Ah, this also was not clear from your original post (I wasn't able to
access the article you cited).  Most people associate the term
"composting" with aerobic (oxygen-requiring) breakdown of organic waste.
The kind of industrial bioreactors you're describing are a whole different
ball of wax.

You say the bacteria will break down "pathogens."  Does that mean just
disease organisms, like other bacteria and viruses, or have these systems
been shown to break down the vast array of chemicals that currently go
into our waste stream, including pharmaceuticals, cleaners, etc.?


>
>
> "Many residents (especially those in apartments) have no place to store
> even the compostable vegetable wastes for more than a few days.
> Recycling requires different kinds of materials to be separated; many
> residents are unwilling or unable to do this, so there would be a cost for
> the labor to do this at some central facility."
>
> I think you misunderstand the concept:
>
> this type of large scale composting does not require individuals to store
> their organic waste. It is simply put in out door, municipal refuse
> containers as at present, and is trucked to the composting facilities,
> rather than being trucked to landfills and incinerators.

But won't they still have to do some separation of non-organic wastes like
metals, glass, etc.?

>
> Also, the issue you raise regarding the separation of organic waste from
> non-organic waste is really an educational problem and not a technical
> problem. In Europe, there are already many cities which successfully
> compost their municipal waste and some in fact, have been doing it for
> over 50 years.
>
You need to take into account the differences in "European" and American
cultures.  In this country, it has proved very difficult over the last 30
years to get people even to do the simplest types of recycling.  MUnicipal
recycling rates of even 40% are often considered successful, but the kinds
of systems you're talking about would require much higher levels of
compliance.  Also, what about public refuse containers?  How will those
wastes be separated?



> You also cite the issue of toxic waste getting into municipal waste.
>
> There are ways to separate toxins from the waste but the long term
> solution is not separation but rather, zero discharge laws which force
> the use of processes that do not create any toxic discharge and further
> elimination by removing toxic products from the market place, just as new
> battery technology has removed a major source of cadmium from the waste
> stream.

Are such processes truly feasible today in all industries and to produce
all kinds of products?

>
> In short:
>
> the main obstacle to composting all our municipal waste is not the lack of
> technology but rather, the vested interests who control our present waste
> management via landfills and incinerators, as it is a very lucrative
> industry which obviously is opposed to change.
>
> This vested interest problem is no different than that posed by other
> large scale innovations and eventually, the transition will be made.
>
> Public knowledge of viable options is the driving force and in this case,
> most urban people have very little knowledge of composting technology and
> the feasibility of changing our entire waste management system.
>
> Thus, to initiate a solution which will realistically allow the
> eventual ban of landfills and incinerators throughout Michigan:
>
> we must propose a bond issue for municipal composting throughout the
> state, similar to the present $10 billion for clean water, as the issues
> are interrelated and if explained as such, the public will respond.
>

Sure, there are vested interests and a lot of just plain inertia. (Not all
the resistance comes from evil or greedy large industries; a good deal
comes from small businesses and end users who can't currently afford to
scrap all their existing equipment and change all their current ways of
doing things overnight.)

Unfortunately, I think it's naive to say that if we just explain the
issues, "the public will respond."  As I pointed out earlier, decades of
explaining the benefits of recycling have resulted in only low rates of
participation, and what you're talking about are much more radical
changes in behavior.  Heck, in Michigan we haven't even been able to pass
a law to add things like water bottles to the deposit/return system!

I fully agree that the kinds of things you're aiming for are admirable
goals, and things that we should shoot for, but I think it's going to be a
very long and uphill battle that will have to be fought incrementally on
many fronts.  One bond issue, IF it could be passed, would be only a very
small part of the fight (and, incidentally, would have to be targeted to
fund some very specific, well-thought-out, well-justified action or set of
actions).  And, by the way, who's going to fund the campaign for that bond
proposal?

	--Barb Madsen


>
> On Fri, 1 Nov 2002, Barbara Jean Madsen wrote:
>
> > Lowell,
> >
> > 	Michigan does have a law that makes at least a small step in this
> > direction, by banning organic yard wastes from landfills. As a result of
> > this law, many municipalities and townships now have large-scale
> > composting operations, which earn a part of their keep by selling the
> > compost they produce (the Ann Arbor city compost is beautiful stuff, and
> > cheaper than anything you could buy in a bag!).
> >
> > 	Of course, that doesn't include household compostable waste (like
> > food waste), and doesn't address the issue of recycling other materials.
> > There are some significant logistic and health problems to be solved,
> > though.  Animal products (meat, fats, bones, etc.) and grease do not
> > compost well and tend to attract scavenging animals.  Many residents
> > (especially those in apartments) have no place to store even the
> > compostable vegetable wastes for more than a few days.  Recycling requires
> > different kinds of materials to be separated; many residents are unwilling
> > or unable to do this, so there would be a cost for the labor to do this at
> > some central facility.  Perhaps most seriously, there would need to be
> > some way of dealing with toxic materials.  There are already problems with
> > people flushing toxic materials down the toilet, and sewage-treatment
> > plants not being able to deal with all of these substances.
> >
> > 	Certainly recycling everything in one way or another is an
> > excellent goal, but it's going to take a lot of work to approach this
> > goal, given the variety and volume of wastes we create.
> >
> > 	--Barb Madsen
>
> > On Fri, 1 Nov 2002, Lowell Prag wrote:
> >
> > > -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> > > Enviro-Mich message from Lowell Prag <lprag@mail.msen.com>
> > > -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> > >
> > > Hello,
> > >
> > > Given all the protest in Michigan regarding landfills and incinerators
> > > for the processing our municipal waste, below is a link to a study by the
> > > European Commission to move those countries towards the composting of all
> > > their municipal waste.
> > >
> > > In light of Michigan proposing to spend $10 billion on clean water:
> > >
> > > I should think this study and the many other studies with the same
> > > conclusion, should convince us to also spend a similar amount on banning
> > > landfills and incinerators in Michigan, by adapting state-wide composting
> > > technology for all our municipal organic waste and the re-cycling of all
> > > our non-organic waste.
> > >
> > > Here is the report by the European Commission:
> > > http://www.environmental-center.com/articles/article1163/article1163.htm
> > >
> > > Lowell Prag
>
>
>
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