Above, one of three mounds at the Seneca Meadows Landfill in Waterloo, NY, as seen from the west side of Seneca Lake approximately eight miles away (through a telephoto lens). Credit: Kevin Colton, HWS.

EPA Region Map

EPA Region Map
EPA Region Map

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Snot and Snacks

This past week I tried my best to save every item of trash I produced in order to do a personal waste audit. Even though this project may sound simple, it really wasn't. Throwing things out is ingrained in my muscle memory. There is no thought that goes in to it, I just throw stuff away. There were several times I caught myself this week walking away from a trash can and then 15 seconds later thinking "shoot, I wanted to save that for my audit...I'll just have to make a mental note." Well my mental notes quickly turned into a mental laundry list as I began to realize how little I spend thinking about what will happen to the paper towel I just used in the restroom to dry my hands.

I'm not going to list everything that was in my trash (because that would definitely make a Letterman Top Ten List probably titled "most boring blog posts in cyberspace") but I can tell you that two things really consume my trash: food packaging and tissues.

I never realized that snacks dominated my daily diet, but boy did they dominate my pile of trash. Think about it, if I ate two packaged snacks a day for a whole year I'd be sending 1,460 wrappers to the landfill every year. If we multiply that over the past 21 years I have been alive, I am now responsible for 30,660 granola bar wrappers and empty pretzel bags that will never go away. That's a little disturbing.

There is hope, I don't need to be responsible for another 30,000 snack wrappers and I don't have to give up my favorite snacks. As I was examining a protein bar wrapper I noticed a little emblem and the name Terracycle, so I googled what it meant. http://www.terracycle.net/ is a small company that collects hard to recycle items like wrappers from chips and cookies, empty shampoo bottles, toothpaste tubes, pens, highlighters, tape dispensers, basically anything that you might throw away in the course of your life they collect and re-purpose into school supplies, purses, park benches, fences and office supplies.

Sounds great, right?! Unfortunately it is not as simple as mailing this company the empty package of oreos that you just devoured. Terracyle is organized into 'brigades', a single person or organization will collect a single type of trash to send in, so it is not designed for the individual consumer. It's a start though and it is an alternative for things that cannot be traditionally recycled. This may be something worth looking into for a Campus Greens or E.S. department project.

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