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

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Seneca Lake Garbage Patch

The other day I was walking my dog at Seneca Lake park. We were close to the end of the beach and I noticed a lot of garbage floating in the water. A closer look revealed tiny pieces of plastic that had were broken up by churning in the water for who knows how long. Along with the little pieces were a lot of larger intact pieces that are destined for the same thing. The garbage looked very similar to photos I have seen of beaches that contain tiny pieces of plastic and photos from the pacific garbage patch that show garbage floating just under the surface.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I took an exam this past Thursday, like the first exam, the professor handed out green books for us to write our essays in. We had to write two essays, and she decided that everyone needed two books to do this. I know that these come from a company that is 98% landfill free (I read it on a previous post), but I still didn't feel good about using two books to write two very short essays. I wrote my first essay and it was 3 pages long (1 front and back and 1 front). I couldn't in good conscience use a completely new book when I still had almost an entire book left. I wrote the second essay and ended up using 3 more pages (a total of 3 pages front and back). I'm hoping the professor didn't mind, but I just couldn't waste that much, even if it is recycled.

I was walking back to my room this morning and saw a clearly destroyed cell phone. I wanted to take a picture and pick it up then dispose of it properly, but my hands were way too full. I continued to my room with my stuff, dropped it off, and returned to grab the phone. By the time I got back, the phone was gone. I'm not sure who took it, but I'm hoping that they dispose of it properly. It was clearly destroyed and had no hope of working again. I hope this person realized this and didn't just throw it away when they noticed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Use For Abandoned Houses Part 2

During one of my adventures to Ithica, my GPS led me astray while trying to find College Town Bagels (who has a terrific composting program, by the way). Coincidentally, my GPS led me to a parking lot behind a building that was zoned to be demolished. I could hear people working inside, but was not conscience of what was really going on. Upon further inspection, I found that Finger Lakes ReUse was demolishing the building. Finger Lakes ReUse is a non profit organization that specializes in the green deconstruction of buildings, as well as the operation of a computer reuse program. On this day, they were having a teaching day where they were allowing volunteers to come inside and learn how to deconstruct a building. Unfortunately, this was a time commitment that I was not able to make. I was able to watch through some of the windows, and the process seems understandable. The people inside were dismantling the building one piece at a time, saving the materials they took apart as they went. This company seems to be the perfect solution to the question of what to do with the abandoned buildings we see every day. For more information, visit http://fingerlakesreuse.org

A Use For Abandoned Houses Part 1

We see them all the time. Driving along any road, we always seem to find burnt down, damaged, or just abandoned houses. If we let these houses sit, unattended, we are guilty of wasting resources. A house takes a lot of materials to be built. Minus a lack of any carpentry skills, I assume that a house takes wood, metal (screws, nails, pipes, etc.) sheet rock, and/or brick. In addition to all of these materials, there was some serious labor put into building a house. These houses are still prime reserves of resources. We can still extract the materials that went into building these houses. Additionally, we can use labor hours in the deconstruction of these houses. If only there was a company that took apart buildings in an environmentally responsible way, so that the materials could be resold and reused...

Generic Trash in a Generic Stream

While driving on a back road towards Ithica, I noticed something interesting about the stream that had been running along side the road. It was littered with trash. There were multiple plastic pottles, an egg carton, a few newspapers/magazines, and some other unidentifiable plastics. At the end of this stream was Cayuga Lake, which is a problem. But an even bigger problem is that this could be a stream on any road that leads to any lake. Why do people feel the need to throw their trash out into the environment? How can we change people's attitudes to make them understand that this behavior needs to change? And how can we encourage people who live near the trash to help clean it up, even though it is not their fault?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Where Does The Grease Go?

While driving through the Sampson State Park, I was keeping my eye out for garbage. It was a Saturday afternoon so the park had no employees in attendance. When I came up to the concessions building, I found an unfamiliar looking garbage can. This bin was sitting on the edge of the parking lot next to the building. I mustered up the courage to open the lid. Inside, I found a particularly horrible sight that the following picture does not do justice.There was between a foot to two feet of grease inside the bin. Additionally, there was some garbage that did not belong inside. There was really no telling no long how long it had been sitting there. Of course, the bin is meant to be picked up, but how often does it get picked up? And where does the grease go? Next time you cook up some bacon, think about where the grease goes.

Patagonia's footprint

While stumbling around Patagonia's website, I came across their Footprint Chronicles page which goes in depth about how they do business and shows what various production methods used for a wide assortment of their clothes. Patagonia has always been an environmentally conscious and the transparency of their company really shows this. I decided to follow the production of their R2 Synchilla jacket. It begins with design in California, moves to recycled fiber production in North Carolina, and then on to fabric manufacturing in New Hampshire by Polartec. Assembly is done in Columbia, and final distribution in Nevada. The company even talks about their recycling program Common Threads, where overused unwearable jackets are recycled in Japan. Patagonia claims that the jacket it is made with over 60 percent recycled content, as well as that only 8 oz of production waste is produced per jacket, form origin as fiber to final sewing.
The website is really interesting and has a lot more information about their commitment to the environment. By reducing their production waste, they reduce the footprint left in the environment.

Washington D.C.

While in Washington D.C. we drove past a number of garbage dumps. This particular one can be seen from the highway. The picture to the left is a pile of old refrigerators. While it does seem that the pile is growing, because of the crane positioned above it, there seems to be no effort to try and recycle the scrap metal. Also, it appears as if their is no liner underneath the pile to stop possible hazardous chemicals from leaking from the fridges into the ground. The blue building below is the recycling center at the same dump. The doors were open once when we drove by, which revealed a large sorting room for paper, plastics, and compost. I would consider this site a local dump that processes local garbage before sending it else where.
These two photos were taken behind my apartment. During the winter I have seen tons of squirrels and birds picking at my neighbors trash. They always have too much trash in their cans to close the lids, thus making it accessible to the animals. While I thought that the trash men picked up the trash that had been spread about the drive way by the animals I was wrong. Most of it was simply covered up by the newest snowfall. Now that the snow has melted a pile of trash has slowly emerged across the drive from their cans. It has now been there for over two weeks, and is clear that the garbage men are not going to pick it up and neither are my neighbors. This incident makes me wonder how much trash gets covered up by the snow only to be reveled during the first major snow melt. This link leads to a video that talks about some of the garbage that has been found during the snow melt in West Springfield, Mass. http://www.wwlp.com/dpp/news/local/Garbage-found-underneath-melting-snow

When I was done with my drink at Starbucks, I went to throw away my cup in the trash and found that it was filled to the brim with empty cups all which could be recycled. When asking Starbucks if they had a recycling bin they said that since they did not own the building it was not their decision as to whether or not they could have a recycling bin. I was astonished to find on the Starbucks website that out of the 7,529 store locations they have, that only 399 of them have front-of-store recycling available. By 2015, Starbucks would like to implement recycling in all of their company owned stores. Additionally, by 2015, Starbucks would like to serve 25% of their beverages in reusable mugs. An incentive of .10 cents I believe is rewarded each time you reuse a mug!

Green Labeling

Although it may be hard to read, this is a picture of one of the many plastic bags that Wegmans packs their groceries in. Although i is made from 40% recycled material and not anything less, I laughed because I saw nothing eco-friendly about this bag. Even though this was from recycled material, plastic bags will never effectively break down in the landfills. It is so easy to save a plastic bag from being put in the landfill by taking your own reusable bag to the store or by taking back these plastic bags to Wegmans. After they are returned to Wegmans, they are taken to their central reclamation center where companies by them for the pound. Since 1994, they have had 3 million pounds of plastic put to good use. (http://www.wegmans.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CategoryDisplay?storeId=10052&identifier=CATEGORY_2702) That's a lot of plastic saved from sitting in a landfill!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hauling Trash

After following this garbage truck on the highway I got to thinking how far trash travels to sit in landfills. It has become more apparent after being in Geneva and living closer to a landfill because not only are there more 16-wheelers hauling trash up and down 5 and 20, but the roads are in much worse conditions. It seems ironic that we go through all the troubles just to get rid of something that we created in the first place. With the rise in gas prices, something tells me that the price we are going to pay to continue to get rid of our trash is just going to get higher and higher.

Hand dryers aren't that bad after all

So after visiting the Geneva dorm this past week, I noticed that they had hand dryers instead of paper towel dispensers. After seeing the consistent mountain of dirty disgusting paper towels in Medbery and how clean Geneva, maybe the hand dryers aren't that bad, after also taking into consideration that the brown paper towels really don't do much in terms of absorbing water, they really just spread it around like regular paper would.
On the cover of USA Today, I noticed that in 2010, a record breaking 3.9 million volunteers took part in a national clean up campaign for cleaning up garbage and recycling. I found this interesting because after 2 years of not having an increase of volunteers, almost another million people took part in this clean up.

why arent all bottles redeemable?

After noticing that bottled water is now redeemable for 5 cents each, I took a look at the gatorade bottles and noticed that these arent redeemable for anything. I know many students try and hold onto their cans and bottles that are redeemable for a 5 cent deposit and gatorade bottles wont be making the cut. I am an athlete and it happens that I drink a lot of gatorade and the bottles are no good to me for a deposit. I think if the bottles had a 5 cent deposit, more people would recycle them because they are now worth something.

redeeming your cans

Although I don't live off campus, I have heard of students leaving our their recyclables for who is known around Geneva as "the can man". I found out girls from a certain off campus house, insist on all of their cans and bottles that are redeemable for 5 cents are put in a certain garbage pail for the can man to take. This works out for both parties, as the girls are being environmentally friendly by recycling and this gentleman can make some money.

Following a discussion about my building's unbelievable disposal rate with our janitorial staff one morning, they recommended I see the "recycling room." I had no idea what this meant so obviously I had to see it and was confronted with the scene to your left. It seemed inoccuous enough; a room to separate out the blue bags from the white ones. What they told me next was what brought the scenario into shocking relief: this was 3 weeks worth of collection. WHAAAAAT?

Where my building had produced roughly ten bags of garbage in two day, we had not come close to that amount in 3 WEEKS. I am still baffled over this finding. It became easier to understand when they explained that much of what is recycled must unfortunately be added to the trash pile because it's been ruined by food or liquidbut still... WHAT??

It occurs to me that there either needs to be less strict regulations on recyclables or increased separation of materials. The bottom line remains however, the greatest contribution to this unbelievable finding is our consumption of things that cannot be reused or converted into other materials.

Early in the semester, I had the idea of talking with the people that probably know more about garbage than just about anybody on this campus (other than our class of course), our janitorial staff. On a daily basis, they handle the junk, rotting filth, and completely resuable stuff that we want out of our lives.

On this particular morning they had just finished collecting the weekend's trash, which was immense and stinky for just two days of work. Through a short conversation, I found out that not only did these ladies have to collect and move our garbage, they also had to sort it... all of it. Even though we have a blue bin, in which students are expected to separate their own recyclables out of their regular trash, our building's trash gets a second scan by these brave souls.

The sheer amount of waste generated in just 2 days was unreal to me. It brings up all the questions Royte asks about our consumption as well as those we've raised and attempted to answer in class, regarding how to address the mounting garbage problems. It is clear to me that there is no bigger source to attack than consumption patterns. If one building (roughly 90 people) can produce over ten bags of trash in two days, there's something going terribly wrong.

This weekend the HWS sailing team ventured down to Brown University. In early winter the former Brown sailing facility, Edgewood Yacht Club, burnt down in a terrible fire leaving only rubbish behind. The new site of sailing for the university is bare with few remains of the boathouse which had existed months before. Searching around what is now "waste" I found some interesting boat parts, plastic pieces, and even a burnt page of a book. It was interesting to see what came from such immense damage.

That right there is a land fill. It's actually a huge one despite how insignificant it looks in this picture. Perhaps the reason it looks so puny is because of the colossal body of water immediately next to it. That's right, someone put a lake right next to a landfill. Classic.

Now I'm obviously a highly skilled garbologist because I've been in a class called the Geography of Garbage for 3 months, but something tells me even if I had come upon this scenario 4 months ago, my reaction still would have been, "Whooooaaaaa, stupidity. Hey guys, look how dumb that is."

What is the idea here? Let's create a huge pool for liquid runoff to drain in to? These engineers were clearly misinformed about the reliability of landfill liners. The dangers I see here are both in the easy access to groundwater pollution and, basically, the cesspool of contaminants that is now right on the surface level. They are not visible in the picture but there were birds all over the water. That can't be good. Who on earth thought this was a good idea?

Here, finally, is the gratuitous picture of just a garbage can. It is the receptical of most of our unwanted stuff so it's pretty necessary to include at least one of these in any garbage commentary, I suppose. The reason I snapped this, though, was not from a lack of time, but for what was all around it and leading up to it. As we had just gotten a fresh snow after a quick thaw at the time of the taking, there was nothing to cover what was ultimately the unprotected overflow of this can that had taken up residence as far away as atleast 80 yards. With the high winds of the snowstorm, the topmost garbage had been whipped all over the sidewalk and surrounding area. The trash included solo cups, plastic bags and packaging, bottles, cans, cardboard boxes, and food scraps (the typical college waste).

As can be seen, more things had been added to the top of this heap, awaiting one good gust of wind to send them off into the wild. It reminded me of a realization I came to when on an alternative spring break trip to clean rivers: people just don't care where there waste goes. As long as their trash is no longer immediately underfoot or even sitting at the end of their driveway, it would seem a majority of America has no desire to see it to safety. This mentality is unbelievably dangerous in a world that claims to be greening itself. A real "green" step would be to see that your refuse finds a home, be it recycling, reuse, or the landfill. While this is not a solution (landfills are notoriously great at being a towers for the wind to carry off loose particles) the responsibility of transporting one's own filth to a safe location might awaken people to just how much they are actually disposing. Understanding this would hopefully lead to the kind of revolution in consumption Elizabeth Royte believes is necessary to solve the world's garbage woes.

One Idiot's Trash...

Every once and a while, it's fun to take stock of the inane idiocy that occassionally flares up on our lovely grounds. Just this passed weekend, some strong fool decided to unearth a trash bin that was CEMENTED into the ground. Don't ask me how but they managed to tip the thing sideways just for laughs.. I guess?

Anyway, another demonstration of our species devolution is currently residing in a tree in the O'dells complex.. or was the last time I checked. At some point earlier this semester, some clearly high functioning individual decided one of the school's yellow bikes was most useful if suspended fifteen feet in the air. Perhaps they thought that they were returning the bike (our school's most obvious example of it's environmental concerns) to its "natural" environment. Dude, the irony was not lost on us.

Call it corny but the first thing that came to mind (other than several profanities and immediate judgements) was the idea of trash vs. treasure. I'm not breaking any new ground with this kind of thinking but I couldn't help but begin mulling over the complexities of this scenario. This yellow bike, a piece of the colleges campaign to decrease student driving (thereby reducing carbon emissions), had no apparent defects. It seemed a perfectly usable tool that was now decommissioned because someone was showing off. At the risk of souding grandiose, this bike could have been someone's sole mode of transport around campus and town. What else are we heaving away that still has immense value simply because we're bored or moronic? It is a question several of the author's we have read have raised, most notably Elizabeth Royte in her investigation of our consumption and chronic disposal.

In the Caird foyer lives what I consider to be one of the most wasteful, (unfortunately) useless institutions of the HWS Campus, the free paper program. Don't get me wrong. I am a hundred percent behind anything that attempts to educate individuals about the world they live in. I also have absolutely nothing against free stuff. In fact, I'm a SWAG junkie. However (and I urge you to investigate this for yourselves) an unforgivable amount of these papers go unread and a great many end up blowing around campus, cluttering doorways, and, ultimately, finding their way into the recycling or garbage can.

Is it necessary? I enjoy hardprint as much as the next person and honestly believe our campus benefits from having an accessible, free information source close at hand. But the volume in which we supply these stacks and, therefore, waste them seems frivolous and wasteful to me. Couldn't we order/ supply less or have them in fewer locations around campus? Those that actually want them would likely not mind walking next door for a paper. Just an idea but I implore everyone... just keep your eyes out for this kind of thing. Acceptance is the first stage to change.

Do Not Enter

On a little garbage exploration, I found myself shut down by a 'do not enter' sign (pictured to the left). This was not the only place where we were not allowed, but also by the building where trash seemed to be sorted. This was nothing unexpected because of the reoccurring theme mentioned in Royte's book about the idea of the unknown. From a distance this hill of trash seemed big but once we got up close it was shocking to think that the entire hill was just trash underneath it all. It definitely puts in perspective how much trash we actually have to deal with. And this is just one landfill!


I did not take these pictures myself, but I found them based on things that I saw driving back to school from Rochester this morning. I would have taken the pictures myself, but I drove by the items too fast and didn't have time. First, on 490E I drove by a mattress on the side of the road. Why would anyone want to just toss a mattress onto the highway? It doesn't make sense to me at all. Seeing this got me looking closer at the side of the road to see what other trash there was. There was a ton. It was every where. There were bags, papers, cans, bottles, fast food, everything you could think of. I really don't understand this. It's very simple to take a bag, put it in your backseat or somewhere in your car and put all your trash in there. There is no need to toss it out the window as your driving down the highway.