May 17, 2010 | General

Editorial: Capturing The Truth

BioCycle May 2010, Vol. 51, No. 5, p. 4
Nora Goldstein

Year in, year out, for 51 years, BioCycle has been consistent in its message. Wrote Jerome Goldstein, our founder and Editor and Publisher Emeritus, in the inaugural issue in Spring, 1960:
“We are publishers and editors thoroughly convinced that there is a need to conserve this country’s as well as the world’s natural resources. We believe that converting municipal and industrial organic waste into useful products would be an effective step forward in a long-range conservation program.”
That message is as true today as it was in 1960. Yet we continue to mismanage not just our nation’s, but as a human race, our world’s natural resources. We do this even when science and our ecosystems tell us we have no resources to waste. We do this when the tools and systems are in our hands to capture and recycle resources.
The reasons and excuses we make for perpetuating our waste of resources are many, but we have reached a point where they are all starting to sound lame and empty. Take, for example, the solid waste industry’s primary reason why the organic fraction of the solid waste stream should be disposed: Throwing organic wastes into landfills generates renewable energy.
Twenty years ago, Procter & Gamble (P&G) attempted to use a similar line of reasoning to sell its disposable diapers. It was 1990, the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, at a time when consumer product companies were under pressure to do more to promote recycling and waste diversion. The company mailed diaper samples to households around the country; on the packaging, it stated that the diaper could be composted at your local composting facility. The irony – pointed out eloquently by Jerry Goldstein – was that there were only a handful of composting facilities around the country that could compost disposable diapers.
Fast forward to today, and the solid waste industry’s reasoning – and a multimillion dollar public relations and lobbying campaign – for throwing organic resources away in the name of green energy. (The question isn’t whether the methane captured and utilized is renewable energy, but whether landfills are the best mechanism available to process organic residuals into energy.) The industry’s campaign has become a significant distraction to the urgent work that needs to be done to conserve the world’s natural resources.
We turned to Dr. Sally Brown of the University of Washington, one of the world’s leading natural resource management scientists (and a master of communicating) to cull through the scientific literature and tell us once and for all, if it makes sense to intentionally landfill organic waste streams to generate and capture methane for renewable energy. In short, Dr. Brown’s answer is no. “What these studies suggest – and this is the most important detail – is that landfills are best suited as a place to throw stuff away rather than to optimize the carbon, energy and nutrient values of organics.”
And so, in the tradition of BioCycle and Jerry Goldstein’s mission and message of conserving natural resources, we bring you this month’s Special Report, “Waste of Resources – Putting The Landfill Energy Myth To Rest.” We extend our gratitude to Sally Brown for her willingness to tackle this topic and communicate her findings in a way that everyone can understand and utilize. –

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