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"Making Use of Waste" by Josh Trought, as published in the Record Enterprise March 2, 2006

We live in a disposable society. Current consumption patterns value the quick and easy over quality and longevity. This implies that the majority of the consumer goods we purchase are with us briefly on their way to the landfill. Worse yet, the rest of the world is following suit. Worldwide, countries such as China and India crave the luxuries we consume here in North America, but the resources that fuel these amenities are becoming increasingly scarce. Exponential growth in the global human population exacerbates the depletion of vital resources such as clean air and water associated with the standard of living we are compelled to maintain. We must focus on ways to ensure viability for future generations by approaching day-to-day decisions as responsible stewards of the earth's resources. If humans are to survive on this planet, we must find ways to subsist within our means.

Why consume to excess? What value and joy is placed on wasteful consumption? Our society must come to value the frugal and resourceful, and to challenge youth to live within their means. The foundation of American culture is based on growth. Since the days of colonial expansion and Manifest Destiny we have embraced limitless progress and infinite growth. These assumptions of unlimited growth need to be reexamined. Decisions must be made based on an awareness of the limited carrying capacity of this fragile planet. We must take responsibility for our personal impact upon the environment.

Washing our waste away
The sink garbage disposal is an example of how short term convenience can have negative consequences. These devices are marketed to save time and energy. They provide a short-term benefit by allowing households to flush away scraps into the sewage system. Unfortunately kitchen scraps do not sufficiently break down, so pipes become obstructed by food waste. With so much additional solid material filtering down, it is necessary to have the septic tank emptied more frequently – a greater cost in the long run.

The ecological tragedy is that this system wastes two valuable resources. In rural areas clean potable water is used to flush the food scraps into a vault to settle in the septic tank's anaerobic slime. The food waste that is being discarded might otherwise be used for creating the ultimate plant fertilizer: compost. Kitchen scraps are a wonderful ingredient for making compost. In municipal water treatment facilities every taxpayer pays for the increased volume of waste. Concentrating biodegradable waste in landfills or septic tanks squanders an available resource. Part of recycling is the search for innovative ways to use the materials at hand and forego the costs of disposal.

To some, simple acts such as urinating outdoors might cross societal boundaries, but let's consider for a moment the environmental impact of flush toilets for urine. On average, 2 gallons of clean, potable water are used each time we visit the w.c. Healthy human urine is sterile and does not contain dangerous pathogens. Diluted 1:10 with water, it actually serves as a potent plant fertilizer. Yet, the general practice is to waste fresh, clean water to make this culturally stigmatized material disappear. Perhaps we have lost sight of the bigger picture. How else could we rationalize wasting potable water when millions of people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water? It is time to take a closer look at our habits and choices to determine what we need to change in order to retain a habitable planet for the future.

Making a Difference in the Plymouth Area
It is a shame how much we waste. During the holidays, it seems as though boxes and wrapping paper scarcely stop in transit on the way from the producer to the dump. Couldn't we recycle the wrapping paper and boxes each year, and store them with the ornaments? If we are going to cut a balsam fir for our living room every year why not plant one in the back yard?

One local merchant is taking matters into his own hands. Mark Younger, owner of the UPS Store on Main Street in Plymouth offers a unique and mutually beneficial system of reusing. Mr. Younger accepts clean Styrofoam peanuts, which he reuses for packing at the store. He has been doing this for seven years, but he still must buy new packing materials to meet the demand in Plymouth. As long as they are clean, there is no reason why Styrofoam peanuts should be thrown away after a single use. We should take Mr. Younger up on his offer: reducing expenses for a Main Street business and decreasing the amount of waste going into our landfills. It is possible for us, as a community, to be more sustainable by thinking about how our "waste" can serve as valuable resources.

At D Acres, we are also trying to take materials often considered disposable and re-orient them back into useful purposes. Two examples are newspapers and egg cartons. We utilize black and white newspapers as a mulching material in our gardens. D Acres accepts drop-offs of newspapers year round – no need to sort them, but no magazines please. The same goes for cardboard egg cartons. The cartons are reused when we sell eggs from the farm, or at Peppercorn Natural Foods. Cartons used for collecting eggs are quickly soiled, but those can be used as kindling in the woodstove, or for mulching in the gardens. We recommend buying eggs in cardboard cartons, because they can be reused, and eventually, they break down into organic material. Styrofoam and plastic containers have no productive end gain, and will ultimately end up in the landfill. D Acres also collects vegetarian food waste and coffee grinds from Plymouth food establishments and puts them to use feeding pigs and composting.

Make Conservation A Habit
Most of our choices begin at home. Recycling can be accomplished at the household and municipal level with more focus and attention. We need to stimulate current infrastructure and the design of new technology in order to increase our capacity to recycle limited resources. Most new products that we buy today can be produced from recycled materials. If we take the time to recycle our waste at the landfill, but do not purchase these recycled products, the cycle is broken and our initial efforts make no sense. Persistent consumer demand stimulates production in a capitalist market-driven economy. If we didn't buy products with recycled content, recycling would become impractical, because there would be no market for the resulting product. By understanding where things come from and where they end up afterwards, we can make more informed decisions that make a difference.

Humans are creative and resourceful. We need to find solutions that generate the standard of living we wish to enjoy, yet do not threaten the natural environment upon which we depend. The most basic and fundamental way to save is conservation. Our future depends upon the wise use of available resources, and the design of sustainable systems. We need to change from a disposable society into one that values energy banked in the future.

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