The New Green: Waste is a verb, not a noun
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 22:02
An important concept in creating a Green Economy is the elimination of waste. For most of us, the act of throwing material away is such an ingrained activity that we have never questioned it. Since childhood we have been taught to simply toss unwanted objects into a waste bin, after which they will magically disappear. The reality, of course, is that all of our waste – and there is a lot of it – ends up in landfills or is burned, if it isn’t simply released into the environment as litter. None of these endpoints are desirable for a healthy environment.
Perhaps surprisingly, the largest overall contributor to landfills is not plastic packaging or paper wrapping – its actually food scraps. According to the website for the film Dive!, a documentary about food waste, in America we toss out an astonishing 96 billion pounds of food every year. Of course, the first priority in handling food waste is to prevent generating it in the first place, through efforts like efficient distribution and allocating leftovers to soup kitchens. However, there is also much that can also be done with the waste that is currently being piling up in landfills. As the saying goes among Green Economy advocates, “waste is a verb, not a noun”. This means that waste is not a necessity – it occurs only when we fail to utilize the products that we generate. A Green Economy would be comprised of “closed loops”, where the “waste” of one economic process would be the “food” of the next process.
In 2011, the Connecticut legislature took an exciting step toward creating just such a closed loop with food waste. The law requires that all commercial food producers (mostly restaurants and grocery stores) that produce over 104 tons of scraps annually must send the waste to a food waste-to-energy facility. Paul Sellew, CEO of just such a facility in Massachusetts, called the Connecticut law “the best regulatory policy we have seen in the U.S.” The law has already gone into effect in theory, but the food producers will not need to comply until the state builds two new facilities for handling the waste. The timeline for the construction of these facilities is not clear, although it seems that plans are still in the early stages. Despite this, the state stands to reap huge benefits from redirecting tons of waste out of landfills, and using a previously unused material as a new source of free electricity. Luckily, it seems that there were intelligent lawmakers behind the drafting language of the Connecticut bill. A 2011 article in The Connecticut Mirror explains: “Instead of just mandating recycling, it stipulates that within six months of food waste recycling facilities actually being up and running, grocery stores, food processors, wholesalers and distributors within 20 miles of them would have to begin separating their food scraps and taking them there. That of course guarantees that whoever builds a food waste recycling facility will have the product to support it.” We can be proud of our state for taking the lead on closing the food waste cycle - and can take this opportunity to encourage our representatives to take further steps toward a no-waste economy.