Those eco-friendly San Franciscans have got at least one thing right: curbside composting. And they have been doing it right for over 15 years, gathering over one million tons of composted waste since the program began. Now, because of its success, programs similar to Frisco’s have expanded to nearly 100 cities nationwide.
City-sponsored composting makes sense: for instance, when Portland began their program in October, they went from weekly garbage collection, to every other week. There just wasn’t enough trash to justify stopping by every 7 days. It cost roughly $1 million for educating citizens, and could save the city of Portland, by some estimates, a third of the waste currently entering landfills.
Yet most cities have not adopted it yet. Why? Trash tycoons lobby them against it. It could be worse—just look at the Mafia’s manipulation of trash in Naples, Italy—but it remains an enormous problem for states and cities trying to encourage local composting. Waste Management, the Big Trash company that has been behind anti-composting initiatives, made $3.46 billion from carting and dumping of trash in the second quarter of 2012 alone. Combing PAC money and outright donations, Waste Management prevents the percentage of trash recycled or composted from growing over 34%.
The biggest problem is initiatives to overturn bans on yard waste in landfills. The idea behind the initial legislation is that yard waste (e.g. lawn clippings) is easily compostable by the owner, but now, in states such as Georgia, yard trimmings must be transferred to landfills. Compost piles and bins, as it turns out, are much more efficient than landfills at capturing greenhouse gases. The EPA considers the best use of yard waste, as it doesn’t take up space in a landfill, recycles nutrients, and contains CO2. Waste Management and its landfills, on the other hand, utilize a methane capture system that grabs, at best, 75 percent of the gas released.
Waste Management has recently sought to brand itself with the phrase “Think Green.” Don’t be fooled.
Read more about the game of “Cash for Trash” from the Earth Island Journal.