Toxic Waste Spurs Development Boom


Brooklyn’s own Gowanus Canal was designated a Superfund Site in 2009. This means the EPA will force the polluting companies to pay for the clean up of the canal.  Potentially Responsible Parties that were served notices are Con Edison, Honeywell, Kraft, ExxonMobil, Unilever, Viacom, Coca-Cola, Sears, their predecessors, or their affiliated businesses. The worst offender is National Grid due to decades of coal tar pollution. Also, the City of New York.

Residential and commercial buildings add to the problem by draining their sewage downhill and storm water collecting all sorts of runoff from 19th and 20th century industrial Brooklyn all end up in the canal. The natural tides from Upper New York Bay do not flush the canal out so the water stays put. Without movement, there is no oxygen.  Life died out, changed color from clear to brown to its current gray-green, and it began to smell.  Bubbles of foul air breach the oily surface due to decomposing sewage far below. Dense swirls of oil, at times, can become beautiful in the changing light.  In 2007, a 12-foot-long baby minke whale swam into the Gowanus. Healthy at first, it was soon nicknamed “Sludgy” due to a coat of slimy muck and sediment that covered its body.  Its health deteriorated rapidly and it died after a few days.  In 2013, a dolphin swam into the Gowanus and perished.

Dan Nosowitz wrote in Popular Science,  “The Gowanus is one of the most creatively and massively pathogenetic waterways on the planet. Water taken from different parts of the canal and from different depths will have totally different levels of contaminants, microbes, radioactive materials, or carcinogenic materials. It’s polluted and dangerous in an entirely different way than most other water because you have a huge, 1.8-mile waterway that’s completely stagnant.”

“We don’t really know what’s in there, we don’t know what’s in the soil and air around it, and we don’t know how it affects the tens of thousands of people who live within a few blocks of it.”   Nasreen Haque, a microbiologist who taught at the City University of New York attempted to study the microbial makeup of the Gowanus. She decided to have her students test for microbes in the canal.  “We found that everything we threw at it, every kind of imaginable pathogen, was growing there,”  she said. But here’s where it gets nuts: in the stagnant water of the canal, fed by chemicals from raw sewage, tar, and rotting garbage in the sludge at the bottom of the canal, they’re breeding and evolving into new forms we’ve never seen before.  In 2008,  Haque conducted a study revealing the white clouds of “biofilm” that float just above the sludge at the bottom of the canal.  The clouds aren’t microscopic; they’re giant clumps of white gunk that nobody had ever seen before.  Haque discovered the white clouds of biofilm because she is one of very few to have actually gone into the water.  Hague made her dive with the help of the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy   This organization supplies Open Accessible Space Information System to NYC.

Cleaning up the Gowanus is a project of immense difficulty.  Companies dumping sewage and waste materials will have to be stopped.  A giant retention tank will need to stop the sewage tanks at the blocked end of the canal from overflowing and sending raw, untreated sewage directly into the Gowanus.  The sludge and the toxic soil around the canal will need dredged and removed.  Methods for treating the dredged soil, depending on the level of contamination, will need burned or treated and put to reuse.  The bottom will need sealed to contain whatever leaked down further.  Then layers of absorbent materials, sand, gravel, and rock, and clean sand will be needed to attempt restoring the canal bottom as a habitat. The current pump can circulate between 200 and 300 million gallons of water daily through the canal to remove water.  The area along the canal will get planted with native trees, grasses, and plants playing a vital role in preventing erosion, fostering a healthy ecosystem and improving its appearance.

So, after all of this bad stuff!

Ways You Can Help:


Until next week,

Garbage Girl



Waste Timeline Continues

invent In 100 years we moved from throwing waste in the streets and using pigs for waste management to an overwhelming number of inventions and companies that made our lives safer, easier, healthier, and more energetic!  We have been on an invention rocket ride!!  All of this excitement has given us a great sense of power and achievement.

Last week, I promised to post the remainder of the ASTC timeline.  A very impressive reader with more precise history information on his radar brought some misdates to my attention, like Ben Franklin died in 1790 so his garbage brigade could not have occurred in 1792 and the first Woolworths was in Lancaster, PA. not Utica, NY.   This week, I dug deeper and discovered further misdates in this part of the timeline.  Without changing the ASTC version, I have added what may be more updated information in red.  So!  We have a Wikipediaized version evolving!  I still think we get the point.  All this activity brings us face to face with our current waste abundance and our culture of more is better.  Take a deep breathe and hang on for the ride.

1902 A survey of 161 cities by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds that 79% of them provide regular collection of refuse.
1903  Corrugated paperboard containers are now used commercially. 1st ones 1895 in USA
1904 The nation’s first aluminum recycling plants open in Chicago and Cleveland.
1904 Postmaster General Henry Clay Payne authorizes permit mail. This means that with a single fee, 2,000 or more pieces of third or fourth class mail can be posted without stamps. This opens the door for direct mail advertising and mass solicitations.
1904 Montgomery Ward mails out 3 million catalogues weighing four pounds each.
1905 New York City begins using a garbage incinerator to generate electricity to light the Williamsburg Bridge.
1907 An unexpectedly thick run of toilet paper is converted to become the first paper towels. 1931 Scott Paper
1908 Paper cups replace tin cups at water vending machines on trains and in public buildings.1909 by Dixie Cups
1909 “Kraft” paper pulp first made in the United States, a process developed in Germany in 1883.  the first use of kraft process was 1890
By 1909 102 of 180 incinerators built since 1885 are abandoned or dismantled. Many had been inadequately built or run. Also, America’s abundant land and widely spaced population made dumping garbage cheaper and more practical.
ca. 1910 – 1917 Juvenile sanitation leagues become popular in cities throughout the country.
ca. 1910 City beautification programs become more and more popular. Many cities have juvenile sanitation leagues whose members promise to help keep streets and neighborhoods clean. Sanitation workers wear white uniforms, reminiscent of other public workers such as doctors and nurses.
1914 W.K. Kellogg invents a wax paper wrapper for Corn Flakes boxes.
1915 The National Clean Up and Paint Up Bureau sponsors 5,000 local clean up campaigns.
1916  Major cities estimate that of the 1,000 to 1,750 pounds of waste generated by each person per year, 80% is coal and wood ash.
1916 Waxed paper is commonly used to wrap bread.
1916 A major shortage of paper pulp during World War I leads Secretary of Commerce William C. Redfield to ask the public to save old paper and rags to make new paper.
1916 Dr. Thomas Jasperson obtains a patent for making paper from de inked wastepaper.
1917 Shortages of raw materials during World War I prompt the federal government to start the Waste Reclamation Service, part of the War Industries Board. Its motto is “Don’t Waste Waste — Save It.” Every article of waste is considered valuable for industry.
1920 The first commercial radio broadcast. The technology held far reaching implications for advertising and purchasing. Americans buy 1.5 million radios within the year.
1920s During this decade, “reclaiming” or filling in wetlands near cities with garbage, ash, and dirt, becomes a popular disposal method.
1924 The Kleenex facial tissue is introduced.
1926 Clarence Saunders opens the first supermarket. Pre packaged food and self service packaging increase selection for consumers and lower the cost of food.Piggly Wiggly 1916
1928 Teleprinters and teletypewriters come into use.
1928 Cellophane is invented by the DuPont Cellophane Company. The transparent material is used as a protective wrapping for food and other products. invented 1923 DuPont
1929 Aluminum foil is invented.  patent 1889 by Charles Martin Hall
1930 A new plastic, polyvinyl chloride, is patented by B.F. Goodrich. It is used as a replacement for rubber, as protection against corrosion, and for adhesives. 1926 plasticized PVC
1930 Another plastic, polystyrene, is put on the market by the German firm, I.G. Farben, and also produced by Dow Chemical Company. The hard, shiny material is molded into tackle boxes, refrigerator linings, and other items. 1937 as Styron in the US
1930s Kimberly Clark develops disposable sanitary pads. 1920 Kotex
1932 The development of compactor garbage trucks increases vehicle capacity.1938 the Garwood Load Packer 
1933 Communities on the New Jersey shore obtain a court order forcing New York City to stop dumping garbage in the Atlantic Ocean. On July 1, 1934, the Supreme Court upholds the lower court action, but applies it only to municipal waste, not commercial or industrial wastes.
1935 General Electric begins producing and marketing a garbage “Disposall.”
1935 Rohm and Haas invents Plexiglas, a clear plastic used in headlights, lenses, windows, clocks, and jewelry. invented 1928 brought to market 1933
1935 Krueger’s Cream of Ale, Richmond, Virginia, produces the first can of beer.
1936 Milk products are now commonly sold in paper packaging.
1937 The DuPont Company patents nylon, the world’s first synthetic fiber. Its strength, resistance to moisture and mildew, and good recovery after stretching lead to its use in stockings, electrical parts, power tools, and car accessories.1932 Wallace Carothers
1939 Coal and wood ash make up 43% of New York City’s refuse, down from 80% in 1916.
1939 Wisconsin Select beer is sold in no deposit, no return bottles, to compete with the recent introduction of beer in no return cans.
1939 Paperback books are introduced, selling for 25 cents. 1935 Penguin Books
1939 Birds Eye introduces the first pre cooked frozen foods, chicken fricassee and criss cross steak. First sold 1930
1940 Japanese conquests in Southeast Asia cut off America’s supply of tin, hampering canned food production.
1941 America enters World War II. Rationing of such materials as wood and metal forces an increased reliance on synthetic materials such as plastics. Low density polyethylene film, developed during wartime, replaces cellophane as the favorite food wrap by 1960.
1942 – 45 Americans collect rubber, paper, glass, metals, and fats to help the war effort. Paper collections are so successful they overwhelm the markets by the spring of 1942.
1942 – 45 Methods and materials for wartime shipment of food make World War II “the great divide” in the packaging and storage industry.
1944 The Dow Chemical Company invents an insulation material called Styrofoam. 1941
1945 The first American ball point pens go on sale for $12.50 each at Gimbel’s in New York.
1946  Fortune magazine heralds the arrival of the “dream era…The Great American Boom is on.” 
1947 “Our willingness to part with something before it is completely worn out is a phenomenon noticeable in no other society in history…. It is soundly based on our economy of abundance. It must be further nurtured even though it runs contrary to one of the oldest inbred laws of humanityCthe law of thrift.” J. Gordon Lippincott, industrial designer.
1948 American Public Health Association predicts that the garbage disposal will cause the garbage can to “ultimately follow the privy” and become an “anachronism.”
1950s An improved paper cup for hot beverages is introduced. It is lined with polyethylene instead of wax. not finding good dates on this
1950s A second hydraulic system to eject garbage is added to garbage trucks.
1950s The growth of convenience foods (frozen, canned, dried, boxed, etc.) increases the amounts and changes the types of packaging thrown away.
1953 The American economy’s “ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods.” Chairman of President Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisors
1953 Swanson introduces the first successful TV dinner: turkey, mashed potatoes, and peas.
1953 “It is our job to make women unhappy with what they have.” B. Earl Puckett, Allied Stores Corp.
1954 “Never underestimate the buying power of a child under seven. He has brand loyalty and the determination to see that his parents purchase the products of his choice.” Dr. Frances Horwitch (“Miss Frances” of TV’s “Ding Dong School) at Chicago advertising conference.
1957 High density polyethylene (HDPE) is developed by Standard Oil of Indiana and Phillips Petroleum invented by Karl Ziegler of the Kaiser Wilhelm Instituteand Erhard Holzkamp 1953
1958 The Bic Crystal Company introduces the throwaway pen. 1950 Marcel Bich
1959 The American Society of Civil Engineers publishes a standard guide to sanitary landfilling. To guard against rodents and odors, it suggests compacting the refuse and covering it with a layer of soil each day.
1959  Philadelphia closes its reduction plant (a facility for turning organic wastes into fats, grease, and oils), the last one in the country.
1959 The first photocopier, the Xerox 914, is introduced — 22 years after it was patented.
1960s  Easy open tops (pop tops) for beverage cans are invented. Iron City Beer in Pittsburgh is the first to try the invention and its sales increase immediately. 1962
1960s  Bead molded polystyrene cups are introduced. They provide better insulation for hot drinks. patented 1942 by Fritz Stastny and BASF
1960s The first disposable razors are sold. 1920s razorblades by Gillette and 1975 razors by BIC
1960s Bread is sold bagged in polyethylene rather than wrapped in waxed paper.
1961 Sam Yorty runs successfully for mayor of Los Angeles on a platform to end the inconvenience of separating refuse. A city ordinance eliminates the sorting of recyclables.
ca. 1963 The aluminum can for beverages is developed. by Reynolds Metal Company
1965  The Solid Waste Disposal Act, the first federal solid waste management law, is enacted.
1968 President Lyndon Johnson commissions the National Survey of Community Solid Waste Practices, which provides the first comprehensive data on solid waste since cities began to record amounts and types of waste in the early 1900s.
1969 Seattle, Washington, institutes a new fee structure for garbage pick up. Residents pay a base rate for one to four cans and an additional fee for each additional bundle or can.
1970 The federal Resource Recovery Act amends the Solid Waste Disposal Act, and requires the federal government to issue waste disposal guidelines.
1970 The federal Clean Air Act enacted. New regulations lead to incineration shut downs.1st in 1963
1970  The first Earth Day. Millions of people rally nationwide on April 22. Gaylord Nelson
1970 United States Environmental Protection Agency is created.
1971 Oregon passes the nation’s first bottle bill. By offering cash for aluminum, glass, and plastic containers, it removes about 7% of its garbage from the waste stream.
1972 According to William Ruckelshaus, head of EPA, solid waste management is a “a fundamental ecological issue. It illustrates, perhaps more clearly than any other environmental problem, that we must change many of our traditional attitudes and habits.” 
1972 The federal Clean Water Act is enacted to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.
1975 “That happiness is to be attained through limitless material acquisition is denied by every religion and philosophy known to humankind, but is preached incessantly by every American television set.” Robert Bellah, The Broken Covenant
1976 The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act creates the first significant role for federal government in waste management. It emphasizes recycling and conservation of energy.
1976 The Toxic Substances Control Act is passed. Before this and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act went into effect, any individual or business could legally dump any kind and amount of hazardous chemicals in landfills.
1977 Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) soda bottles are introduced to replace glass bottles. The plastic was first developed in England in 1941. patented in 1973 by Nathaniel C. Wyeth
1978  The Supreme Court rules that garbage is protected by the Interstate Commerce Clause; therefore, one state cannot ban shipments of waste from another.
1979 EPA issues landfill criteria that prohibit open dumping.
1980 Polypropylene introduced and used for butter and margarine tubs, and for drinking straws. introduced in 1950s
1983 The space shuttle is pulled out of service to replace a window that had been severely pitted by a chip of paint from space junk.
1984 During the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, athletes, trainers, coaches, and spectators produce 6.5 million pounds of trash in 22 days, more than six pounds per person per day.
1984 Hazardous and Solid Waste Act amendments and reauthorization to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act require tougher federal regulation of landfills.
1986 Rhode Island enacts the nation’s first statewide mandatory recycling law.
1986 Fresh Kills, in Staten Island, New York, becomes the largest landfill in the world.
1987 The Mobro, a Long Island garbage barge, is turned away by six states and three countries. The garbage (mostly paper) is finally incinerated in Brooklyn and the ash buried in a landfill near Islip.
1987 The Garbage Project at the University of Arizona, Tucson, begins to excavate modern landfills as if they were ancient archaeological sites. The goal is to determine exactly what is inside landfills and how much of it biodegrades.
1988  “Nobody ever has enough.” Lewis Lapham, Money and Class in America
1988 The EPA estimates that more than 14,000 landfills have closed since 1978, more than 70% of those operating at that time. The landfills were full, unsafe, or the owners declined to adhere to new standards.
1989 EPA issues “An Agenda for Action,” calling for an integrated solid waste management approach to solving solid waste problems, with waste prevention and recycling as its first two priorities.
1990 140 recycling laws enacted in 38 states and the District of Columbia.
1990 “Neither shortening nor lengthening product life can be a general principle. The strategy, rather, is to fine tune the durations of things, now avoiding cheap things that break too soon and clog our trash cans, now expensive objects that last too long and clog our lives.” Kevin Lynch, Wasting Away
1991 EPA issues comprehensive municipal solid waste landfill criteria required by the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendment.
1991 “Our economy is such that we cannot ‘afford’ to take care of things: labor is expensive, time is expensive, money is expensive, but materials — the stuff of creation — are so cheap that we cannot afford to take care of them.” Wendell Berry
1993 Municipal Solid Waste landfill criteria become effective for most landfills in the U.S.
1993 “We’re reminded a hundred times a day to buy things, but we’re not reminded to take care of them, repair them, reuse them, or give them away.” Michael Jacobson, Center for the Study of Commercialism

timthumb.php How You Can Help:

You just did!  You learned alot.  Good work!

Until next week,

Garbage Girl

A Waste Timeline to the 1900s


I want to place a special emphasis on the abundance of great work being done by so many individuals and institutions on waste issues.  Consuming, digesting and processing waste information, like the image above, I am happily wallowing in it with the hope that something good will happen!  I encourage our readers to dig even deeper as well.  The tag lines and links are a great place to learn more about those who bring critical information to our attention.  They need our support.

Collectively we can become right for each other and all of the species sharing this generous planet with us.  Take a moment to experience how alive and connected we are.

Now! For a little history to show you what we used to do and the inventions that lead us to where we are now.  Using pigs for waste management?!

The following is a partial timeline from an online exhibition developed by the Association Of Science Technology Centers and Smithsonian Traveling Exhibitions.  The site is a great interactive tool for adults and kids alike!  The remainder of the timeline will be published next week. The last 100 years are notable.

1657 New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) passes a law against casting waste in the streets.
1690 The Rittenhouse mill, America’s first paper mill, opens in Philadelphia making paper from recycled cotton and linen as well as used paper.
ca.1710 Colonists in Virginia commonly bury their trash. Holes are filled with building debris, broken glass or ceramic objects, oyster shells, and animal bones. They also throw away hundreds of suits of armor that were sent to protect colonists from the arrows of native inhabitants.
1792 Benjamin Franklin uses slaves to carry Philadelphia’s waste downstream.
1810 Peter Durand patents the “tin can.”
1834 Charleston, West Virginia, enacts a law protecting vultures from hunters. The birds help eat the city’s garbage.
1850s Junk dealers in Reno, Nevada, scavenge personal belongings from the Oregon, Santa Fe, and California trails. Pioneers abandoned the items on the long trek west.
1860s American newspapers are now printed on paper made from wood pulp fibers rather than rags.
1860s Residents of Washington, D.C., dump garbage and slop into alleys and streets, pigs roam freely, slaughterhouses spew nauseating fumes, and rats and cockroaches infest most dwellings including the White House.
1866 New York City’s Metropolitan Board of Health declares war on garbage, forbidding the “throwing of dead animals, garbage or ashes into the streets.”
1868 Brothers I.S. and John Hyatt successfully manufacture “celluloid,” the first commercial synthetic plastic. It replaces wood, ivory, metal and linen in such items as combs, billiard balls, eyeglass frames, and shirt collars.
1872 New York City stops dumping its garbage from a platform built out over the East River.
1879 “Thither were brought the dead dogs and cats, the kitchen garbage and the like, and duly dumped. This festering, rotten mess was picked over by rag pickers and wallowed over by pigs, pigs and humans contesting for a living from it, and as the heaps increased, the odors increased also, and the mass lay corrupting under a tropical sun, dispersing the pestilential fumes where the winds carried them.” Minister describing the New Orleans dump to the American Public Health Association.
1879 Frank Woolworth opens the first five and dime store in Utica, New York. He pioneers the idea of displaying goods on open counters so customers can see and feel merchandise (a practice that later makes larger, theft proof packaging necessary).
1880s Many Americans still believe that diseases such as typhoid fever are caused by “miasma” or gases coming from garbage and sewers.
1880 New York City scavengers remove 15,000 horse carcasses from the streets.
1885 The nation’s first garbage incinerator is built on Governor’s Island, New York.
1885 – 1908 180 garbage incinerators are built in the United States.
1889 “Appropriate places for [refuse] are becoming scarcer year by year, and the question as to some other method of disposal…must soon confront us. Already the inhabitants in proximity to the public dumps are beginning to complain.”Health Officer’s report, Washington, D.C.
1892 Beer bottles now sport a metal cap to prevent spoilage.
1893 “The means resorted to by a large number of citizens to get rid of their garbage and avoid paying for its collection would be very amusing were it not such a menace to public health. Some burn it, while others wrap it up in paper and carry it on their way to work and drop it when unobserved, or throw it into vacant lots or into the river.” Boston Sanitary Committee
1894 The citizens of Alexandria, Virginia, are disgusted by the sight of bargeloads of garbage floating down the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. They take to sinking the barges upriver from their community.
1895 King C. Gillette, a traveling salesman, invents a razor with disposable blades.
1896 New York City requires residents to separate household waste — food waste in one tin, ash in another, and dry trash in bag or bundle — and assigns 40 policemen to enforce the new edict.
1896 Chicago’s City Council records its concern for the death rate in the 19th Ward, which has eight miles of unpaved roads that can’t be swept, roads“polluted to the last degree with trampled garbage, excreta, and other vegetable and animal refuse of the vilest description.”
1898 Colonel George Waring, New York’s Street Cleaning Commissioner, organizes the country’s first rubbish sorting plant for recycling.
1899 The federal Rivers and Harbors Act restricts dumping in navigable rivers, to keep them open for shipping.
19th c. Visitors describe New York City as a “nasal disaster, where some streets smell like bad eggs dissolved in ammonia.”
19th c. Pigs loose in city streets throughout the country eat garbage and leave their own wastes behind.
ca.1900 Greater acceptance of the germ theory of disease begins to shift the job of garbage removal from health departments to public works departments. Health officers, it is felt, should spend their time battling infectious diseases, not cleaning up “public nuisances” such as garbage.
1900 There are over 3 million horses working in American cities, each producing over 20 pounds of manure and gallons of urine every day, most of which is left on streets.
1900 Hills Brothers Coffee in San Francisco puts the first vacuum packed coffee on the market.
Early 1900s American cities begin to estimate and record collected wastes. According to one estimate, each American produces annually: 80 – 100 pounds of food waste; 50 – 100 pounds of rubbish; 300 – 1,200 pounds of wood or coal ash — up to 1,400 pounds per person. In Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, each citizen produces annually: 141 pounds of wet garbage, 1,443 pounds of ash, and 88 pounds of dry rubbish — a total of 1,672 pounds.
Early 1900s Small and medium sized towns build piggeries, where swine are fed fresh or cooked garbage. One expert estimates that 75 pigs can eat one ton of refuse per day.

What you can do to help:

Until next week,images

Garbage Girl

Hidden Waste in Things We Love


UGH!  I just finished reading a disturbing book called Stuff: the Secret Life of Everyday Things by John C Ryan and Alan Thein Durning.  The book is published with Sightline Institute,   by NEW Publications.   Sightline Institute is a not for profit research center based in Seattle, Washington fostering sustainability as a way of life.  I started my day with the authors, traveled around the world and discovered what it takes to support that first moment of joy everyday, after Martin, of course.  Travel opens my eyes to diversity and new ways of seeing even the most common things done differently with different resources.

Let’s start with morning coffee. . . . my first thought everyday brings me a feeling of rejuvenation and joy! The Coffee moment! Grinding the beans, inhaling the first aroma from the grind, listening to the percolating sound of the finishing brew, warming the milk, choosing one of my many favorite mugs, smelling that awakening aroma throughout the apartment and situating myself into my morning spot to taste distant lands.

Let’s follow those 100 beans into the grinder.  They represent 1/60th of the beans that grew on a coffee tree that year from a small mountain farm in Colombia. That’s twelve coffee trees just for one person!   “Modern” farmers now use 11 pounds of fertilizer and a few ounces of pesticide to “protect” those trees that once grew under a canopy in a tropical forest full of life, in order to meet the growing demands of coffee drinkers all over the world.  Coffee is the world’s second largest (after oil) export commodity and source of foreign exchange for developing countries. The United States consumes 1/5th of the world’s total.  Colombia, a biological superpower, started cutting down its forests to plant high yield coffee varieties that increased soil erosion and decimated its bird diversity.

Farm workers, paid less than $1/day, wearing westernized shorts, T-shirts and backpacks spray the trees with pesticides from Germany, inhale some of the chemicals, and unknowingly allow the remainder to be washed or wafted away and absorbed by other untrackable plants and animals. Fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals incorporate labor, technology, transportation, and fuel from 3 continents generating toxic wastes along their way. The handpicked berries are fed into a crusher powered by diesel to remove the beans from the fruit. The unwanted 2 pounds of pulp for every pound of coffee gets dumped into the Cauca River, where it decomposes, consuming oxygen needed by the fish.  The beans are dried under the sun, packed into a 132 pound burlap bag and travel to New Orleans on a Japanese ship fueled by Venezuelan oil.   The steel in the ship came from Korea using iron mined in western Australia. Upon its arrival in New Orleans, the beans were roasted using natural gas from West Texas, packed into a polyethylene, nylon, aluminum foil and polyester bag and an 18-wheeler consuming 6miles/gallon of diesel oil trucked 2,719 miles to unload it in a warehouse near Seattle.  A smaller truck packed up its deliveries and brought some of it to a local store.

One pound of those beans, packaged in that non recyclable bag with a ziplock top,  get driven home in an unbleached craft paper bag from Oregon burning 1/5 gallon of gas.  In the morning, the beans go into the grinder made in China from imported steel, aluminum, copper and plastic, powered with electricity generated by Ross Dam on the Skagit River in the Washington Cascade Mountains.  The ground beans go into a mesh filter made of German steel and Russian gold which goes into a plastic and steel drip coffee maker from China using more electricity to heat and pump water.   The water came through a metal pipe originating at a water processing plant from Chester Morse Reservoir on the Cedar River in the Cascades.  Heated by an electrical element the water seeped through the ground beans dissolving some of its oils and solids, trickled into a glass carafe and was poured into a ceramic mug handmade in NY.  Washing the mug took much more water than the drink, plus detergent from Minnesota. The used grounds went into a GLAD plastic garbage bag from California, which will travel by truck to a landfill in Oregon.  The teaspoon of sugar, stirred into the hot liquid came from cane fields in Southern Florida that were once sawgrass marshes. The cane field irrigation water, with nutrients and pesticides, now drains directly into the Everglades, contributing to a 75-95% diminishment of vertebrates like turtles and storks, or it is transferred by canals to the Atlantic Ocean.  The milk came from a grain fed cow in Skagit Valley that liked to wade, drink and graze in one of the water shed streams, warming the water, creating mud and expelling waste that depletes the oxygen needed by the Coho Salmon and the Steelhead Trout.  After drinking the coffee, the human waste and the leftover brew passed into the Seattle sewer system, carried by Cedar River Water under the streets.  It is mixed with other organic and inorganic waste on its way to West Point Sewage Treatment Plant on the shores of Puget Sound, where it is filtered, concentrated, digested, and sterilized with screens, settling tanks, bacteria and chlorine.  An engineer deemed the sludge clean enough for agriculture and a truck hauled it away to use as fertilizer and soil conditioner.  The remaining treated liquids were carried by water through metal pipes to Puget Sound where tides flushed it into the Pacific Ocean.

Even though, the United States has experienced significant improvements in air and water quality, industries and consumers alike are growing more concerned about our collective environment.  Because, everyday, we consume 120 pounds of natural resources extracted from farms, forests, rangelands and mines through chains of production that reach us from all over the world.  We obviously don’t consume 120 pounds of product.  The impacts of this trade are hidden from our view in rural hinterlands, fenced off industrial sites and far off nations.

How You Can Help:

Until Next Week,

Garbage Girl

Waste Wanted


Sweden, population 9.7 million and slightly larger than California, has a program of generating energy from garbage that is wildly successful, but recently its success has also generated a surprising issue: there is not enough trash.  Due to its efficiency in converting waste to renewable energy, Sweden started importing around 800,000 tons of trash annually from other countries.

Only 4 percent of Swedish garbage ends up in a landfill, according to Swedish Waste Management. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency states 250 million tons of trash was generated in 2010, but only about 34 percent was recycled.  (I wonder what the statistic is for 2014!)

Swedish trash incineration plants approach or exceed 90% efficiency. Most power plants only achieve 15-25% efficiency.  90% of garbage is available as energy! The efficiency is possible because they generate electricity by burning the trash, they use the heat to heat water, the hot water is piped to communities, a heat exchange system transfers the heat to a self-enclosed local system which sends the heated water to radiators and faucets in homes and businesses. Efficient, well designed, reliable, engineering.

Called District Heating Systems, its less expensive than heating by electricity and oil.  A typical Swedish city of 110,000 with the system installed over the last 30-40 years has nearly 100% coverage.

The technology is not new. Countries that have no landfill space and no deep supply of fossil fuels place a priority on recovering valuable resources. In the US, waste-to-energy facilities are not popular because of the air born pollutants that are a byproduct of burning, the truck traffic to transfer the garbage, the unsightliness of the facility not wanted near where we live and the potential to reduce recycling incentives.  Yet! Sweden has the 5th cleanest air quality (US rates 12th) and the 3rd cleanest water (US rates 39th) and the priority placed on aesthetics can be witnessed by the design of the above plant.  Even the lights change position and color to inform the community of the stages occurring in the process!  Byproducts such as bottom ash, are sorted for metals and recycled as fill for road construction and fly ash, which is toxic, is deposited in a landfill certified to handle hazardous materials. Air emissions are cleaned through a series of scrubbers and filters that exceed environmental standards.  “The same manufacturers are supplying both continents. This means that the emission levels are comparable,” said Matt Kasper, a special assistant for energy policy at the Center for American Progress.  In addition, Kasper reports, “Waste-to-energy and recycling are compatible with one another. Countries in Europe that utilize waste-to-energy have some of the world’s highest recycling rates.”

Sweden recognized and confronted the rapid national and international loss of natural resources and took a lead in organising the first UN conference on the environment, held in Stockholm in 1972.

Sweden’s proactive environmental policies have led to a reduction in acidification and eutrophication (excessive richness of nutrients in a body of water, frequently due to runoff from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen).  Held up as a role model in water management; Sweden’s tap water is drinkable and you can safely swim in central parts of the capital, Stockholm.

At present, Sweden has the highest percentage of renewable energy in the EU (over 47 per cent). By 2020, the Government says its within reach of making half of the country’s energy renewable.

Although Sweden is a frontrunner in environmental policy, it recognizes that there is plenty of room to improve for the benefit of future generations.  Sweden’s environment policy is based on 16 environmental quality objectives:

  • Reduced climate impact
  • Clean air
  • Natural acidification only
  • A non-toxic environment
  • A protective ozone layer
  • A safe radiation environment
  • Zero eutrophication
  • Flourishing lakes and streams
  • Good-quality groundwater
  • A balanced marine environment, flourishing coastal areas and archipelagoes
  • Thriving wetlands
  • Sustainable forests
  • A varied agricultural landscape
  • A magnificent mountain landscape

Its incineration plants offer a look into the future where countries could potentially make money off of their trash. Environmental technology is a growing economic sector in Sweden, with some 3,500 companies in the field. Sweden’s main strength lies in producing systemic solutions resource management, waste management and renewable energy.

Leave it to the Scandinavians to make even trash chic.


Does it look so bad?

How You Can Help:

  • Vote on November 4th for politicians who support renewable energy policy. The growing political clout of renewable energy interests is challenging the huge financial backings from powerful groups such as Americans for Prosperity, i.e. Koch Industries.  Measures have been introduced in about 18 states to expand the battle over fossil fuel and renewable energy to the state level. The new rules would require utilities to use solar and wind energy, as well as proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules that would reduce carbon emissions from power plants.
  • Learn more about local improvements and initiatives.
  • Green Mountain Power can be a great alternative to Con Edison to receive your power from solar and wind.

Until next week!

Garbage Girl