Monday, February 28, 2011
Over the past weekend my house accumulated quite a bit of trash, as a result, several of us decided to do some housecleaning on Sunday afternoon. I influenced my housemates to help me break down the boxes for recycling and redeem the beverage containers that had a five-cent deposit. Since this is not the usual routine, as most of my housemates usually throw the things that they no longer need on the floor or in the nearest trashcan, they were surprised to see that we had filled five trash bags full of recyclables that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. Moreover, my housemates are now listening to the slogan “money talks” by thinking twice about throwing cans and bottles in the trash because we made $14.80 going to the redemption center returning them for cash.
This morning, I was driving from Boston to Geneva on 90. I passed so many garbage trucks that I lost count. I wondered how many of them were headed to the same places that I was. As I was passing the trucks, I heard two interesting stories on NPR about garbage in Mass.
First, there is a problem in the Berkshires with PBCs dumped into a river (by GE). The town is in the process of making GE clean up their mess. The second story was about using landfills to generate energy... in a new way. In addition to providing methane, landfills are high and flat. They can't support vegetation (in fear of penetrating the lining) so they are a perfect place to put solar panels. They were talking about turning a few Mass brown fields into solar farms to generate sustainable energy and revenue for the town.
This was interesting because as we head into spring and the all the snow melts more garbage will be revealed. One place that this may occur could be the movie theater shopping mall where huge snow piles have built up since the start of winter. Also, the snow piles in the Wegman's parking lot. I would suspect that when the snowplows push the snow into the large piles, garbage would also get trapped in the mountains of snow. Come spring time maybe there will be a high concentration of trash where the piles of snow once stood?
This weekend, to my dismay, my cell phone fell apart and rendered itself useless to me. After accepting that it was definitely shot and unfixable, I began thinking about how best to dispose of the phone carcass and battery. As for my battery, along with the rest of the country’s batteries, it will probably end up in the trash and be brought to a landfill or incinerator. Lithium ion batteries, like the one from my phone, are not considered hazardous waste by the government. Unlike many older style batteries that contain metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury that can cause disease and death if released into the environment, lithium batteries do not contain any dangerous heavy metals.
So is it ok for lithium batteries to go into landfills? Yes in the sense of environmental safety, but not in a moral or economic sense. The high concentration of cobalt, copper, and nickel in these batteries creates a huge potential for recycling. Instead of obtaining these metals from mining, already-refined metals from batteries can extracted and recycled. This would both reduce energy use and environmental impacts of mining and decrease the flow of batteries and high-tech circuitry into landfills. Unfortunately though, I have no idea how to go about disposing of my phone in a way that ensures it will be recycled. For now ill be forced to toss it in the recycling and hope that it finds its way to a facility that can recycle its valuable metals.
This is a photo of a sign created by the Concerned Citizens of Seneca County. This particular sign sits in my own front yard in Waterloo, NY. The main focus of this group is to generate awareness about the Seneca Meadows Landfill in our community, and to put a stop to their latest proposal which is a clay mine. The clay mine project would consist of the construction and use of a soil mine that would be used to cap the existing garbage. The mine would span over 120.2 acres, and would noisily operate for over 11 years. The issue is that this clay mine would be located across from a high school, and within walking distance of several residences. This project is in no way in a remote area. The CSS group and its lawyer say that the project would be in violation of section 7 of the Mining and Excavating Law. This law states that "no excavation shall be permitted within 1,000 ft. of an exisiting residence or public building." The area that is to be mined is within 1,000 feet of several homes. Of course there are many other issues with this project that include environmental impacts on habitat and health, and the polution of groudwater.
This past weekend, I made a voyage to this region's garbage mecca: New York City. As I walked the streets of Manhattan, I couldn't help but compare the streets-scapes, the movement, and the hustle and bustle to the last comparable big city that I was in: São Paulo, Brazil. On a normal day, walking to and from the São Paulo metro, I was shocked at how clean the streets were. A bag of trash here and there, waiting to be picked up, but the only constant stream of matter that littered the streets there was dirt. That is not to say, however, that there was no littering going on in the 5th largest city in the world. Instead of the litter ground into city streets, as I saw so frequently in NYC, São Paulo's litter was swept to the periphery: into the urban slums, or favelas. What does this say about the difference in social structure of these two cities?? Furthermore, what differences are there in urban value systems?
Favela from: http://affordablehousinginstitute.org/blogs/us/2008/06/favelas-of-sao-paulo-part-1-cingapura.html
NYC Street Scape taken by myself on 2/26/2011
While walking around downtown last week I saw a few things that caught my eye. Firstly, at 317 South Main St. there is an old broken down building, with the facade still intact, but it was clear that the inside was in the process of being demolished or renovated. I saw large pieces of building materials and wondered what they were going to do with all of that building waste. Later, I saw a couple of packer trucks around town that I didn't recognize. Being such a large and successful company, I figured that Casella would have monopolized the waste management industry around Geneva. However, after some investigation on their website, I found out that Feher is a locally owned and run company (based in Syracuse, with branches in Geneva, Utica, and Watertown) that handles municipal waste, recycling, commercial waste, and industrial waste. They rent out and collect from various sizes of container, from normal trash cans to large dumpsters, in addition to rental of on-site compaction units, and on-site confidential paper shredding. What was particularly interesting to me about Feher is that they seemed to go on rounds right around 5 o-clock, which seemed like a particularly dangerous time for their sand men to be collecting.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Last Monday was the first round of dorm storms. Everyone in the class at this point will have participated in at least their first dorm storm. The picture on the bottom is a picture of us walking through halls of hale in the miniquad. Going from door to door we managed to find quite a bit of trash that had not been properly disposed of. There was a lot of garage in dorms that was not separated at all and students seemed to have a lot of work to do as far as learning how to properly dispose of their waste. I feel like the dorm storming campaign could be very successful because it allows students to have first hand interactions with people trying to raise awareness of recycling. One thing I did notice about the miniquad was that the halls had trash cans specifically labeled for recycling and non recycling waste. Separate waste receptacles definitely helps to increase the recycling rate and help students participate on their own. All dorms should have clear areas in which waste aiming to be recycled can go. The picture on the top was also taken during the dorm storming and was a trash bag found in the halls of Medburry. After examining the bag we found everything from school supplies to food waste. There were plenty of recyclables as well as non recyclable waste in the bag. It looked to me like it was highly contaminated and would have been hard to contribute to recycling.
I stopped and took these two pictures on my way home from Geneva last Friday. In the first photo I had just left campus and was still on route 5 & 20 when I ended up behind this grimy tractor trailer truck, which looks like one that had just come from dumping at the local landfill. I encounter at least 2 or 3 of these dirty trucks every day and that means a lot of trash. In the second photo I was a few minutes outside of town on route 14 and I decided to take a picture of this trash removal company. I have driven this same road about 4 years now as I have commuted to and from school and I hadn’t paid much attention to these buildings or trash bins. However, since garbage is at the top of my list these days I finally noticed that it was there. Now that I’m actually looking, garbage and waste related things seem to be everywhere, which just goes to show that if you’re not thinking about it then you’re not really concerned with it, but if you look close enough it truly is a growing problem.
I figured that people who are in the library are usually more studious than ones who don't spend any time in the library. With that being said, when I was walking out of the library this past week and had a couple bottles to put in the recycling garbage pail, I noticed that the garbage can was overflowed with everything that belonged in the recycling bin. This isn't that uncommon but the recycling bin was literally right next to the garbage pail.
My other image this week is of my thermostat in my room in North. My heat has yet to kick on this semester, but the solar heating from all day sun and the residual heat from the rooms around me keep my room at a tropical 72-82 degrees. I try to keep my shade close during the hours of direct sun to cut down on the solar heating, but I just feel, especially with the 10%&10% campaign, turning down the heat in the dorms could save a lot of energy. Every dorm I have lived in on campus has been drastically over heated. I know this isn't garbage per say but it got me thinking about all of the extra waste that is generated to produce this heat. Royte, in book, discussed the importance of reduction, and I think it is something we need to look into...
I left my room to go do my laundry. I usually use the stairs, but my bag was heavy, so I decided to use the elevator to go downstairs to the laundry room. I called it, and it opened right away. To my surprise I find this sitting in there. When you see garbage in a trash can it doesn't look like that much, but when you pull all those bags out, they really add up. I was surprised that we produce that much trash in one day. I wonder if this was all from one floor or if it was a combination from floors 2, 3, and 4. I looked around for someone to ask, but I couldn't find anyone, so I gave up. On an everyday trip downstairs, I don't usually think about garbage, but when you get a surprise like this, it's hard not to for awhile.
One of the main reasons we produce so much waste today is because things are so over packaged these days. My laptop decided that the keys o, i, u, t, e, 1, 2, -, and ? weren't going to work anymore, so I went out and bought a keyboard to hook up to it until I can get a new laptop. This keyboard came in a red box, and I figured that it would just be in there but no. The keyboard was in the red box, then a regular brown cardboard box, then wrapped in plastic. This just does not seem necessary to me. One box is sufficient to protect a keyboard. It doesn't need to be wrapped three times.
This is just minor though. Almost everything is way over packaged. At the start of the semester when the books I had ordered online were coming in, I was shocked at how packaged many of them were. A small paperback book came in a thick cardboard envelope that was approximately a 2 foot by 2 foot square. That book did not need that much packaging. It was such a waste. When I ship my books that I sold, I package them in an envelope that holds the book snugly. You don't need more than that. It's just wasteful.
Friday, February 25, 2011
These two photos represent contrasting images of where recycling is supposed to go, the proper way to dispose of it and the improper way to dispose of it. The photos also depict the different mindsets that people have towards garbage. In a small town that is moderately environmentally friendly, it is easy to sort recyclables and to dispose of them in the proper way. In a dormitory setting however, it is not always easy and convenient for students to dispose of their garbage and recycling in the proper and most environmentally friendly way. The first photo is a great depiction of where recycling is supposed to go and the proper way to sort and dispose of recyclables. This picture of paper and cardboards was taken at my local dump over winter break. The paper and cardboards are about to go into the compressor in order to be efficiently flattened so that they can be taken to the recycling facility to finish out the process. The second photo was taken at the back entrance of my dorm, Sherrill Hall. This image was very disturbing to me because every piece of ‘garbage’ in the trashcan is 100% recyclable. This concerns me because it shows how lazy students can actually be. There is a large recycling bin right inside the door that would easily have fit all of the recyclables. However, students didn’t even bother to think about that and just tossed their food and beverage wastes into the nearest bin, regardless of whether it is the right one. As with my post last week, I find it interesting to do comparisons of correct vs. incorrect disposal of recyclables and trash. The image from the trashcan outside Sherrill however, shows that students are just looking for the easiest way to get rid of their ‘garbage’, even when all of it is able to be recycled…
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Saw this on the NY Times website this morning. It looks like NYC is making efforts to reduce the stench in the Gowanus Canal. The are repairing/improving the tunnel system that is supposed to flush out the canal. If you recall, Royte's book opened with her paddling down the canal, commenting on it's disgusting appearance and smell. Hopefully the improvements will help. Goals include raising oxygen level in the water, reducing the toxic gasses and reducing the smell.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Being a resident of Medbury dormitories can be a very frustrating experience when it comes to being an ecologically friendly person with your trash. These two pictures taken this week show a substantial problem with waste management in Medbery. As I said in my first blog I would be keeping up with my weekend (Friday-Sunday) plastic waste generation. The bottom picture shows how much plastic I have produced in just three weekends: 17 bottles and 3 water cups. To me personally this seems like a decent amount of plastic to be wasting for one person, which brings me to my other picture. The photo taken on the top is of the trash receptacles that are supplied to students in Mebery. We have no differentiation from recycling and regular trash, it all goes into those two openings. All of my plastic waste had I not been saving it would have been thrown into those holes with any other garbage that people from this dorm generate. I took a trip to the miniquad and all three of those buildings have separate receptacles for non recycling and recycling. It confuses me why the school does not have the same setup for Medbery. If they want to be serious about getting recycling rates up it seems like they might want to start with having recycling bins in all housing facilities.
Monday, February 21, 2011
While walking to campus a few days ago from my apartment, which is near 380 S. Main, I took notice of my neighbors trash. The trash gets picked up every week, and yet they still manage to fill two bins and then some. I am interested in what they are throwing out, or consuming, since my own building barely fills one can per week. On another note, I could not help but look at the old television that they had thrown away as well. In Elizabeth Royte's Geography of Garbage she talks about how certain metals found in televisions can be dangerous when put into landfills. Does Geneva even have a designated place to drop off old electronics for proper disposal? Two days after taking this photo I took another look at their trash pile. Several of the bags had been ripped open, and the trash was being blown into the road. The television had been smashed, the screen shattered, and some of the inside pieces were gone. For five days the pile of trash sat there, and not once did any of the people in the apartment come outside to pick any of it up
Recently I have become more conscious about what is thrown away and what is recycled in my life. The overwhelming trend that I have been observing is that recyclables are constantly thrown in the trash. At this weekend’s ski race the trashcan in the corner of the race lodge was piled high with paper and plastic plates, cups and plastic bottles. Just in the exposed part towering out of the can I counted six plastic water bottles and one more on the floor. Along with the bottles there were countless other recyclables carelessly thrown away. Ironically the plastic bag on the top of the heap has the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle slogan printed on it. It goes to show that the there is an effort to recycle, but it is ultimately up to us.
The race was all college students, and since colleges around the country are raising awareness on the recycling front, I expected better from them.Even with our awareness effort at HWS things could be much better. This picture is from my floor in Emerson and shows a few tied up trash bags ready to be taken away. I couldn’t help but notice the contents of the bags, which was primarily cardboard boxes and plastic bottles. Again, I really think we can do better if everyone makes even the slightest effort to recycle.
In the house that I share with many housemates, we have a meal plan that allows us to hire a Chef to prepare meals for us. Even though our kitchen is fully equipped with pots, pans and cooking trays, our Chef refuses to use this cookware that is available to him. Rather, our Chef purchases disposable aluminum cooking trays from the food budget and throws them away in the garbage after each use. When I asked the Chef why he doesn’t use the pans that we already have, he responded to me by stating, “I don’t want to waste the time to clean the pans, and besides these pans are biodegradable.” I replied, “Yeah, maybe in two hundred years.” The problem seems to be that we have a chef that isn’t motivated to wash pans or recycle. How do you motivate a person that you are paying to prepare meals for you to recycle? Threaten to fire him? As you can see from the pictures, we have the pans available to replace the disposable aluminum pans the Chef would rather use and the result of his actions, or lack thereof, three large disposable aluminum pans in the garbage.
The other day, as I was passing a garbage can located down the hall from my room, I happened to glance down and was stunned at what I saw. The garbage can was filled with a lot of material besides garbage including recyclable material, some of which had a five-cent return. This made me even more aware that the only bin that we use for recyclables in our house is located downstairs by the kitchen and for most of my housemates, must feel like thousands of miles away from their rooms. This confirms the reason why the recyclable bin is rarely used in the house, as one of my housemates said to me, “It’s easier to just throw recyclable or returnable material away because the recycle bin is just too far away from my room.” Now that I am aware of the problem, I am going to make sure that there are more recycle bins located throughout the house. As a result of this simple solution to save energy and money, hopefully we will now have enough recyclable deposit money for a Ferrari fund.
The other night, around 4.a.m., I was awoken by the sound of the wind and sleet hitting my window. While I tossed and turned hoping to fall back to sleep, I decided to get a glass of water downstairs from our kitchen to see if that would help. To my amazement, when I reached the bottom of the stairs to the main part of the house, I noticed that most of the lights were left on. The rooms were lit so brightly that you would have thought that a Hollywood movie was being filmed. I was even more startled to see that the front door of the house was proppedopen during the cold and snowy night allowing the heat to escape from the house and a perfect invitation for a burglar. It is disappointing to think that none of my housemates considered taking a few seconds of their time to turn off the lights before they went to bed as well as making sure that the door was closed and locked. Not only was their neglect a safety issue, but also a huge waste of electricity and money due to fact that only one of many lights in the house has an energy savings light bulb and a boiler from the 1950’s uses an absurd amount of energy to heat the large house. Maybe it would take a drastic measure such a burglary or an increase in rent to create change, but I sure hope not.
This week has given us some ups and downs in terms of weather, and on one of those up days when the sun was melting away all the snow I happened upon this little spot behind the North dorm. I know it's rather hard to see- I blame my cheap camera and bad lighting- but all around the door behind North are little cigarette filters. The melting snow had revealed a tiny cigarette graveyard. It stopped me in my tracks, there were so many all over the ground, clearly someone comes out here regularly for their daily fix of nicotine. I've noticed other places like this around campus, like the entrance to the cafe or the library entrance with the "No Smoking" sign. Although there are slender black cigarette-butt containers scattered around campus, if they aren't placed in just the right spot than there's no stopping a smoker from leaving a pile of grimy filters. Despite my disgust with all of these little cigarette mounds there's no ignoring the fact that people pretty much just flick their cigarette onto the ground when they're done, regardless of where that may be. It doesn't take long to find a filter, they're literally everywhere. It made me think: cigarette butts are probably the most common form of litter worldwide. It also reminded me of some pictures I had seen of bird corpses full of plastic trash... and filters. Here is a trash item that is all around us everyday, something that isn't hidden away in landfills. I am tempted to spend a day collecting as many as I can on campus just to try and quantify them. They find their way into the mouths of birds where they aren't digested, eventually the bird eats enough of this indigestible garbage until they starve to death... with a full stomach. They also contain the filtered chemicals from the cigarette, which then leech into the ground.
Everyone knows cigarettes are harmful to your health and to those inhaling second hand smoke, but I doubt people think beyond the obvious to the harms they cause to the environment.