March 23, 2007 | General

Editorial: Setting The Pace

BioCycle March 2007, Vol. 48, No. 3, p. 4
Nora Goldstein

“Original thinking and bold action are vital to protect our nation from becoming more of a dump than it already is. Again and again, I want to make it clear that we have the technical know-how to treat our wastes without polluting the environment. We are already spending the money in attempts to burn or bury the wastes. So let us use that same money – in many cases less money – to make a potential resource of those wastes.”
So wrote Jerome Goldstein in Chapter One of his 1969 book, Garbage As You Like It: A Plan To Stop Pollution By Using Our Nation’s Wastes. The title of the chapter, “Behold This Compost! Behold It Well!” is the first line of the poem, This Compost, by Walt Whitman. The title of Chapter Two is “Making Resources Out of Wastes,” and Chapter Three, “Composting – Waste Treatment For The Future.” My father wrote Garbage As You Like It for average citizens, educating them about the role they can play in helping to determine the future of their environment. “You as an individual citizen produce the garbage and wastes – more than a ton a year; you pay for whatever method the people you elect decide to use; you should know what happens to the garbage and other trash that leaves your home. You might as well face up to it. Simply trying to forget about your trash just doesn’t work. It comes back to haunt you – in the air you breathe, in the water you drink, in the mess you see.”
What is eerie about the book’s message is that we can fast forward almost 40 years and just about all the same messages, action steps and tools apply. This reality forces the question: Have we made any progress? The answer, obviously, is yes as we look at the knowledge base, equipment and systems in place today to convert residuals into renewable resources. What hasn’t changed too much is that the population as a whole, at least in societies and economies where resources are perceived to be abundant, still is not ready to take more responsibility for their trash. At a recent summit of solid waste executives, much more attention was paid to rail transport of MSW to reach cheaper landfills than to source separation and recovery of much of that MSW stream in the regions where it is generated.
Juxtaposed to the inertia of the populous at large is a looming environmental disaster in the form of global warming. If scientific studies and news reports are accurate (and all signs seem to say they are on target), the challenges we face on this planet today are far more daunting than the ones my father wrote about in 1969 (although those challenges were most likely precursors that helped feed climate change). So much of what we do as composters, organics recyclers and renewable energy producers provides ready-to-go solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The article in this issue, “Composting And Greenhouse Gas Emissions: A Producer’s Perspective” (page 37) by Sally Brown and Scott Subler, helps launch the discussion from the composting side of our industry. “San Diego County Targets Agriculture For Sustainable Organic Resource Management” (page 42) by Rich Flammer and Wayne Williams provides a roadmap for municipal waste management that has huge net benefits to climate change and the local economy.
So what are we waiting for? Why can’t we just replace the unsustainable with the sustainable? Looking through the hundreds of issues of BioCycle, our books, conference proceedings and our memories, it hit us that we started setting the pace to renewable resource management so many years ago, that we need to stop thinking we are the “future” and realize we are the “now.” It is our responsibility to work with legislators, corporate executives, environmental groups and others to create the policies, incentives and regulations that will put solutions developed over these many years into action. Please join us in San Diego next month for BioCycle’s West Coast Conference – Sustainable Solutions In Action (see pages 15-17 for agenda). We are not only setting the pace, we are helping to set the standard.

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