The world's first compostable chip bag will be launched by Sun Chips on Earth Day 2010. This is a wonderful example of corporate leadership in the right direction.
This is a very big deal, and here is why:
Garbage and landfilling
Our garbage is something that most of us do not think about once it leaves our homes. We fill up a can, take it outside to another can, and once a week a big truck comes by and takes it away. Good bye refuse! Out of sight, out of mind. The problem is that here on Earth there is no such thing as away.
Here is a description of what actually happens to the contents of that can, and a typical chip bag. The big truck dumps your garbage at a transfer station. At the transfer station an even bigger truck picks up your garbage and hauls it to a landfill. The landfill is probably no where close to where you live. Here in King county most of our garbage currently goes to a landfill Woodinville. The garbage for the city of Seattle goes to a landfill in Oregon. Here in the U.S., landfills and waste haulers are typically government-contracted, private sector companies such as Waste Management (WM), BFI, and Allied Waste. These companies get paid for taking your garbage away, sticking in a very big hole, and burying it. The more they take away and bury, the more money they get. Here are some of the problems associated with this model:
1. The huge hole becomes a toxic waste site that will never go away -- NEVER. Leachate (yucky liquid) is produced from our landfilled materials, which then needs to be "treated" (treated=$$$).
2. It is extremely costly to operate and manage the big hole. The big hole continues to be costly to manage, even after it is full, and all your chip bags have been buried.
3. We do not have an infinite supply of VERY large holes to put our garbage in.
4. Landfills are some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Pretty sure most citizens do not know about problem #4.
Coutesy of USEPA, this diagram explains the relationship between waste management and GHG emmisions
Why are landfills huge emitters of greenhouse gases?
When we put biodegradable materials such as paper, grass clippings, food scraps, pizza boxes, and branches in the landfill, they do not degrade in the same way they do above ground or in a compost pile. In the landfill they degrade anaerobically (without oxygen), and as a result produce methane instead of carbon dioxide. Methane is approximately 21 times more potenent of a greenehouse than CO2, which means that a little bit goes a long way. When the same materials (food waste, grass clippings, pizza boxes, etc...) end up in a compost pile, we have the potential to emitt 21 times less greenhouse gas equivalents. Furthermore, applying compost to your garden soil sequesters (stores) carbon in your soil, acting as a carbon sink. "Carbon sink" is a fancy term for capturing CO2 from the atmosphere.
What can we do?
We can compost, recycle, and use the compost in our yards.
Most of our U.S. cities have now adopted a 3 bin, source separation system for our refuse. Genearally this looks like the following: a black bin for non-recyclables, a blue bin for recyclables, and a green bin for yard waste. Here in Seattle we can put all of our food waste, including meat, dairy, and food soiled paper products like napkins, paper towels, and pizza boxes, into our yard waste bin. With the advent and increasing use of recyclable and/or compostable plastics, take out containers, and packaging, like the new Sun Chips bag, what we put in the black bin and the landfill will get smaller and smaller.
If your city does not accept food waste in the yard waste bin, please write to your council members and let them know that you want this to change. This is not only about landfill space, it is also about global climate change.
If your city does accept food waste in the yard waste bin, find out who the composter is, and buy their compost. Here in Seattle, Cedar Grove composts our food and yard waste in the city of Everett. Even though I am somewhat of a compost guru, I do not actually enjoy composting my own food waste. I'm sure many of you can relate to this. I thank Cedar Grove for composting it for me by buying their product and using it in my yard. Bags of Cedar Grove compost can be found at all the major nurseries and home improvement centers. Bulk orders of their compost can be arranged by contacting them directly http://www.cedar-grove.com/
If you are a back yard composter:
good for you!
For more information on the connection between waste and climate change visit the following pages:
COOL 2012 http://www.cool2012.com/
City of Seattle: http://www.seattle.gov/util/services/yard/composting/spu01_001997.asp
Seattle's Climate Action Now http://www.seattle.gov/util/About_SPU/News/Current_Issues/SPU01_003021.asp
US Comopsting Council http://www.compostingcouncil.org/