San Francisco is serious about going green, with a zero waste goal for 2020, and a zero carbon goal for city government. You would assume that the residents are deeply committed, but unfortunately, the trash tells a different story.
I recently learned that despite a simple system for sorting compostable and recyclable material, 2/3 of what ends up in the city garbage trucks and dumps could be diverted to either the compost bin or reuse. Now I don’t mean to call-out San Franciscans; San Francisco actually does do a really good job of avoiding waste – over 70% is diverted. But still, even in this green city, the average garbage can is filled primarily with materials that aren’t trash.
Garbage ends up in landfills or incinerated, both of which contribute directly to greenhouse gas emissions. The methane from landfills is particularly nasty, and bad habits at the waste bin could up your personal carbon footprint by as much as 5-10%. Failing to recycle materials also means more virgin material is used in producing the stuff we use every day. This also has an impact on the climate…ClimatePath’s data sources show that paper and glass produced from new materials are about 60% more carbon intensive than using recycled materials.
After doing all (or at least some) of the right things to buy sustainable products, reduce energy use, and even offset some of what we can’t reduce, it would be a shame to leave those benefits at the curb. So take the few extra moments to sort instead of toss.
Aside from being more conscientious about our own garbage habits, it’s easy to influence others. Strange as it may seem, I have noticed that while you can’t always get people to mimic your purchase behaviors (for example nobody can convince me to trade out my Cherry Diet Pepsi habit), people do tend to mimic and respond to disposal behavior. Put a can out with a sign that says “food scraps” or “recycle bottles here”, and people will fill it. What an easy way to make a difference!
Photo copyright KellyBoreson at istockphoto.com
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