The Quest to be Fit

Tracking my journey to better health

Solid Waste January 19, 2009

Master Recycler agenda, lesson 1: Solid Waste.  This topic encompasses the history of garbage, present day waste management methods, current waste statistics for the US vs. other countries, and details specific to the Metro region.  Portland is the only metro area in the country that has a regional government; Metro was created back when the old St. Johns landfill was reaching capacity and the tri-county Portland metro area had to figure out what the heck to do.

Some really depressing and interesting facts about solid waste: 

  • the average North American uses 70% more of the world’s resources than the average world citizen; we have only 5% of the world’s population but use 24% of the resources!
  • the US produces more solid waste than any other country in the world.
  • the average person in the US generates 4.6 lbs of waste per day; compare that to 2lbs/day/person in Germany and Sweden.  This does not include construction waste.
  • the municipal dump (aka landfill) was created around 500 BC in Athens, Greece
  • there are three types of waste that comprise the waste stream: 1) organics, 2) manufactured goods (glass, metals, plastics, paper, etc.), 3) toxic wastes (oils, pesticides, cleaners)
  • at waste transfer stations here in the Metro region most waste is sorted to determine if it can be diverted from the landfill.  The exception is household waste because it contains so much petrucible matter (icky shit such as diapers, organic matter)
  • the Metro region sends about 4.5 MILLION pounds of waste to our landfill in Arlington EVERY DAY.  Yowza.  That’s 75 trucks with about 60,000 pounds of waste each.
  • the five types of waste recovery, listed in descending order of preference, are:  reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, and energy recovery.  The first three are those famous Three R’s we’ve all come to know and love, and that’s where the emphasis lies in Oregon.
  • if some things cannot be recycled at your curbside, it probably means the fair market value in your area is weak, and/or process to get it to the recycling market is challenging
  • some things that should NEVER go in the trash: fluorescent bulbs, pesticides, paint, bleach, flammable liquids, sharps, mercury thermometers, and other items containing hazardous chemicals or toxic metals.  Look for a waste depot in your area that will accept these items.  Leave all labelling on the items, and do not combine chemicals.  Leave nozzles on aerosol type cans.
  • And finally, my own thoughts:  garbage sucks, do whatever you can to reduce or eliminate your garbage at home and work. 

Most of this data has come from the Master Recycler Program Training Manual, Winter 2009, and includes data from the EPA, DEQ, Metro, and other sources.

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