Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Climbing out of the Trash Vortex

A lot of my own motivation for recycling comes from guilt. (Catholics do not have a monopoly on guilt, that's for sure.) It really bothers me that my household produces so much garbage. Anything that I can recycle I hold back in various overflowing bins and containers. And sometimes these piles of recyclables hang around for a long time before I get around to bringing them out to the recycling depot.

I notice that there is a new local recycling service in town called "eco-management". They will pick up two clear plastic garbage bags full of recyclables per resident every other Saturday for 16 bucks a month. So, for all you other guilt ridden people out there who, like me, are procrastinators, I recommend this service. People out there who don't recycle because it is inconvenient, now's you're chance.

My wife pointed out to me that where she was living, in Sitka, Alaska, the city charged resident's less if they put out less garbage. Now there's an idea - the city could provide incentives like this for people to recycle. Because if more people in Prince Rupert recycle, the landfill will take longer to fill up and the city would save money.

But there are more important reasons to recycle. The amount of garbage we produce is directly proportional to our patterns of consumption. For years our rate of consumption has been increasing without limit. The vast majority of raw materials that go into manufactured goods are discarded. Much of what we consume is thrown away within a short time. Then there is all the plastic packaging.

In the North Pacific Ocean there is a great clockwise gyre formed by four ocean currents. This gyre forms an area of ten million square miles. In the middle of this circulating ocean is a huge floating cloud of garbage called the Pacific Trash Vortex. The center of the gyre is an attractor of garbage because it is relatively stationary but the prevailing winds all blow into it. Most of the garbage is plastic because plastic does not biodegrade and it is light enough to float. Instead, plastic photodegrades. Ultraviolet light from the sun slowly breaks the plastic down into smaller and smaller pieces. These pieces of plastic get mistaken for food and end up in the stomachs of sea birds and other marine creatures. Nice. If we don't get them with crude oil spills there's always the products that we manufacture out of the oil to finish them off.

Here on land, a lot of discarded electronic products or "e-garbage" contain toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium. Each TV contains several pounds worth of lead and lesser amounts of other toxic metals In two years the United States Federal Communications Commission will have mandated a massive shift from analogue TV's to high definition digital TV. This means that up to 300 million analogue TV sets are going to end up in garbage dumps, all at the same time. What a toxic metal nightmare that will be. And for what? So that everyone can see more detail on their television screens. Apparently, this is the result of lobbying from the electronic manufacturers. Can you say, "planned obsolesence"? It's the same with all the cell phones and computers that are obsolete within a couple of years after purchase.

In Prince Rupert CityWest's cable service is going digital in January. What does that mean in terms of the number of TV's that will end up in our landfill? Here's an area where the city could be proactive and organize some sort of e-recycling so that the landfill doesn't get swamped with old TV's. Our garbage is threatening our health and the health of future generations.

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