Saturday, October 04, 2008

My post today is about garbage, garbage disposals, the lack thereof, and composting. Getting rid of garbage is much more difficult than in the US. One thing that I hate is not having a garbage disposal. Doesn't sound like such a problem but there is a sink trap with a mesh bag that catches any bits on your dishes and it gets so gross, even at the end of the day. Yuck. I hated it in Misawa and I hate it again living here. But, I think that the non-garbage disposal is the norm here.
There are so many different types of garbage here. Burnable garbage gets picked up twice a week and it has to be tied up in appropriate bags that you can purchase at the store. Non-burnable garbage once a month as well tin cans, glass, and paper (all on separate days I think). Some garbage you actually take to the local super market to get recycled: milk containers, styrafone from meat items, and PET recyclable bottles. So, we have tons of areas designated in the kitchen for one sort of garbage or another. Nothing seems to be working well just yet so hopefully we can figure out a neater way soon. Oh yeah, the milk cartons have to be broken down a specific way, tin cans have to be rinsed and paper removed. It's so complicated I don't know how it all works yet, but we'll figure it out by the time we move!
Anytime we would throw away veggie or fruit debris I would get upset because it was compostable. So, after hearing me bitch about it every evening, Eric came home one day with a compost bin. We have no experience with composting but there are plenty of websites with information on it so we have been able to get it started and keep it going. Every day I am so excited when I get to throw away our specific food scraps. I usually keep a container to collect stuff throughout the day and sometimes make two trips out to it during the day. Today I raked leaves and picked weeds and was so excited to throw it in the compost. Less garbage to figure out how to get rid of! I took pictures of my bin (oh so exciting) but the website won't let me load pictures. Arg.
I saw an article highlighted on MSN today about disposal versus non-disposal. It doesn't talk much about composting, but it's not the norm, especially in the city! Hopefully we can keep it up when we return to the states. It feels good getting rid of garbage ourselves. If you are interested, I copied the article as well as put the link if you want to hear the pros and cons of garbage disposals.

Should We Dispose of Disposals?

For years, the great garbage-disposal wars have been going on without most of us even noticing. Cities like New York—along with many governments in Europe—banned disposals altogether, arguing that the added food waste would overtax the water-treatment system. (New York removed the ban for residential kitchens in 1997.) Meanwhile, the appliance manufacturers—along with homeowners and restaurants who prefer getting rid of food through the drain—have argued that the disposal is actually a green machine, reducing the amount of trash sent to landfills.
It is true that with the major exception of grease and fats—which can block pipes and cause overflows—water-treatment systems are designed pretty well to handle most of the scraps you might have left over from dinner. The leftovers you shovel into the sink will eventually make their way to a wastewater plant, where the sewage goes through "grit treatment," which strains out the largest solid matter. (Sewage treatment is one of the few disciplines in which you can use words like grit, sludge, and scum as technical terms.) Whatever stuff gets separated from the water is either landfilled, condensed into fertilizer, or digested bymicroorganisms.
Still, dumping waste into the water system has environmental costs. There is evidence that the effluent that is pumped back into local water streams does affect their chemical composition and aquatic life. In extreme cases, the result can be something called eutrophication, which occurs when a higher concentration of nutrients results in algae blooms. According to one Australian Study the eutrophic impact of sending your food waste down the disposal is more than three times larger than sending it to the landfill. You'll also be using a lot more water if you decide to go with the disposal—and you'll be indirectly responsible for the extraction of the metal needed to make the appliance.
(A quick aside: As is often case with life-cycle analyses about consumer products, most studies on disposals are sponsored or requested by companies or groups with a financial interest in the results—like InSinkErator or the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association. This is often unavoidable: Getting good data on these devices often requires the cooperation of the companies that make them.)
On the other hand, it takes a considerable amount of energy to truck all that garbage from your curb to a landfill. (How much more will depend on where you live relative to the landfill, but average data compiled in both that Australian study and one conducted in Wisconsin suggest a factor of two.) The decomposition of your trash in the landfill will likely result in more damaging greenhouse gas emissions, since the breakdown of your food waste may produce methane so quickly that it can't be captured. By contrast, some wastewater-treatment systems are actually looking for more food solids, since that will make the process of converting waste into energy more efficient. And wastewater-treatment plants also provide a way to reuse leftover food as fertilizer—although critics have expressed concerns that the use of biosolids on land land may not always be safe (PDF).
The research is unambiguous about one point, though: Under normal circumstances, you should always compost if you can. Otherwise, go ahead and use your garbage disposal if the following conditions are met: First, make sure that your community isn't running low on water. (To check your local status, click here.) Don't put anything that is greasy or fatty in the disposal. And find out whether your local water-treatment plant captures methane to produce energy. If it doesn't—and your local landfill does—you may be better off tossing those mashed potatoes in the trash.


Vicki said...

Whoa, complicated! Sounds like they have quite the recycling program. We're just starting to expand ours. We usually end up with a counter full of recyclables by the end of the week, so I definitely need a better process for that.

At least the girls will grow up with a good sense of being environmentally friendly!

The Khaje Khronicles said...

Complicated! It's awesome that they are so big into recycling but at the same time it sounds like a hassle. I do hope you can find a easy, uncomplicated, uncluttering way to keep your recyclables until pick up day.

I totally need to look into compost.

How are you guys doing? Email me if you get a chance.

Joe said...

Oops, I told you to get a mesh bag for the sink in a different comment but you already have one. It's so gross, I know. We were never sure if we were recycling exactly right but we did the best we could figure out. Nice thought doing composting! I'd like to try that.