The Politics of Waste

Waste is big money. There is a lot of money on the table and many are looking to get a piece of the pot. According to First Research, “The US waste management industry includes about 18,000 companies with combined annual revenue of about $85 billion”
But in recent years, laws that ban the disposal of grass clippings, leaves and landscape materials have hit the waste disposal business right in the bottom line. The industry is working in many areas to have these laws rescinded or suspended and have succeeded in some cases.

These same laws have had another effect, they beget a burgeoning recycling industry. They have enabled new growth in the composting industry, spawning a plethora of supporting businesses The composting industry has become a force to be reckoned with in recent years and does its fair share of lobbying as well.

Standing with the law at their back, the composting industry maintains that they are the only ‘green’ option for eliminating destructive greenhouse gasses that are produced in landfills. They market themselves as a green alternative to land filling to communities who want to embrace recycling.
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But what these communities find is that building a commercial composting facility to process their waste can be an enormous expense!

It is a monumental task to go from an idea in committee to actual operation. There are expenditures every step of the way from land, heavy equipment, machinery, personnel to zoning and permits!
Despite best intentions, some have found that their successful landfill diversion strategy has become a lesson in financial ‘unsustainably.’

There are some oft quoted statistics from the EPA that claim that for every ton of organic waste that is dumped in a landfill creates about ¾ ton on greenhouse gases as it rots. This is leverage composters have used to gain market share. What has gone unreported until now is that during the composting process about the same amount of greenhouse gas is released! So where is the sustainability in that I ask?

So are we really solving the greenhouse gas emission problem or just finding another, more politically correct way of producing it?

According to Dr. Sandy Brown, Research Associate Professor at the University of Washington, “only 25% of the carbon is retained in the composting process.” The remaining 75% of the carbon contained in composted materials is released into the atmosphere. Dr. Brown states that she is “eternally grateful as it is the leftovers …(compost) … that gives us such valuable soil amendment”

My question is would one have an even more valuable soil amendment if nearly all of the carbon was retained? Of course it would! It would also be the solution for eliminating vast amounts of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, something that both composting and landfills create.

Well it may surprise you to find out but that solution already exists. But as is the case with the pharmaceutical industry the object is to make something one can patent and control - sustainability is not an issue. It is all about the money.
What is this technology I am referencing? The scientific term is anaerobic fermentation. Anaerobic fermentation is a method of recycling organic waste into a soil amendment in which nearly 100% is recycled. Anaerobic fermentation use many of the same microorganisms used to make cheese, yogurt, pickles and other fermented products. This process creates an amendment that more rich in compounds such as nitrogen, iron, sulfur and carbon. And there are no greenhouse gases produced!

Why don’t you hear about this? Quite frankly, neither the composting industry nor the waste disposal industry want you to know because it would be detrimental to their best interests.

Anaerobic fermentation is significantly less expensive to accomplish and more sustainable method for dealing with our organic waste problems. It is so easy in fact my 10 year old daughter can do it all by herself!
Anaerobic fermentation is already being used in elementary schools across the country to teach children about the importance of recycling. They collect food waste in their cafeterias and seal it in 5 gallon buckets using bokashi bran. Two weeks later they bury it in a flower bed, landscape or garden. They learn about landfill diversion, eliminating greenhouse gases and how organic matter restores carbon to the soil in a simple yet effective classroom experiment.

If children are capable of recycling organic waste generated at their school why can’t we do this in our homes, churches, businesses and communities?

For video documentary and demonstrations of elementary classes using bokashi bran read the author resource box below.


Copyright 2012 Greg Traver

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