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The audacity of zero waste

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/04/08 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Zero waste

Zero waste is an audacious goal, admits Holly Harlan, director of Entrepreneurs for Sustainability. It will require of us a fundamental mind shift.

"No waste means dealing with all of your problems in the process."

Zero Waste requires nothing short of a re-design of our society ? from transportation to building to how we make products as simple as a pen so that they don't end up in a landfill when the ink runs out.

Meanwhile, we need more people like Nancy Hughes. Recycling coordinator at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Hughes has her mind fixed on trash all day. When you connect the dots that all of Cuyahoga County's landfills are full and that we ship our trash to 14 other counties, you start to work on solutions, she says.

The Zoo recycles, but the next frontier is composting. Thirty percent of what we dump into landfills could be composted. It's mostly food scraps, lawn clippings and animal waste. Hughes, a board member of the Ohio Composters Association, composts ZooPoo from animals (the herbivores) which eventually breaks down and becomes rich soil which is sold to the public.

Waste reduction can mean real savings. That's how the Cleveland Indians see it. They reduced their dumpster pick ups from 130 down to 80 since April after aggressively recycling. The Indians saved tens of thousands of dollars (imagine what they could save from freeing up 30% more space in those dumpsters by composting food waste?) on tipping fees.

Currently, one facility in Northeast Ohio ? Sagamore Soils in Hudson ? accepts composted food waste. The state of Ohio is looking at expanding composting facilities, Hughes says. Ohio has five Class II facilities, which can combine food, yard trimmings and manure. The largest, Paygro (located between Columbus and Dayton), processes 75,000 yards of biowaste consisting of livestock manure, food residuals, yard waste and sawdust each year.

While writing this post, I came across this article, which states:

While recycling of paper and yard trimmings have grown rapidly in Ohio in the last 30 years -now up to 50 percent for paper and 62 percent for green materials-the recovery rate for food residuals is at less than three percent of nearly 96 million tons generated annually. To turn things around, the Ohio EPA and its Solid Waste Management Division have teamed up to get the word out about community and business food scrap composting.

Some waste management companies, such as BPI are certified to accept biodegradables Some institutions, such as Baldwin-Wallace, have launched their own composting program and facility on site. The advantage of compost in our backyards is no facility is needed ? compost can break down on site and provide soil for our gardens.

During the networking session of last week's E4S learning session on Zero Waste, I met Mark who works at the Heinz food processing facility in Massilon. He told me their facility recently started collecting its food waste, which is picked up by local farmers for compost (or maybe to feed pigs).

I also learned that many of the 50 or so attendees were starting a 'green team' at their company to organize efforts to improve the environmental performance of their building or operations. A need identified from the meeting is a place to share success stories from green teams.

Resources

Fast facts

  • 2 million plastic bottles are used in the United States every five minutes
  • 60 percent of what ends up in the landfill could have been recycled

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