|Let thy food be thy medicine,
and thy medicine be thy food.
Hippocrates, Father of Medicine, 400 B.C.
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A New Approach Toward Waste
Following is a statement prepared for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs by Jonathan Campbell in July, 1997.
People have asked me, when I tell them that I favor the closure of most of the landfills and all of the incinerators in Massachusetts, "what do you propose to do with the waste?" My answer, quite simply, is that they are asking the wrong question, because they have an obscured, narrow view of the problem.
What we have in the so-called "waste stream" is an enormous amount of material that can be used, reused, recycled, or should not be there in the first place. A landfill is a way of conveniently and profitably destroying all of it, reducing its volume by 60%-70% over a period of 30 years, and creating an EPA Superfund site while we're at it. An incinerator is a way of conveniently and profitably destroying all of it, reducing its volume by about 60%-70% in a matter of hours, turning it into millions of tons of super-toxic ash, and polluting the air and our food supply with large quantities of the most toxic organic chemical known to humankind - dioxin. Use, reuse, and recycling of this material conserves most of its value, conserves the vast amounts of energy used to produce it in the first place, and keeps the environment cleaner.
Practically speaking, without much effort, Massachusetts communities could accomplish much more than the 46% target recycling goal. My understanding is that Worcester is already at over 50%, just a year or two into their pay-per-bag recycling incentive program. Business and industrial waste is not yet included in the program. The actual realistic number, given proper incentives, is 80%-90% or even more reuse and recycling. (Environmentally aware families living in communities with strong recycling programs accomplish close to 100% reuse and recycling. The only things placed in the "trash" are greasy paper towels, dirty plastic bags, and meat scraps.)
This philosophy extends beyond the confines of ordinary municipal waste, to commercial and industrial operations, construction and demolition, and even to toxic waste management. TURA has taught us that once industry looks carefully at what they are doing, their production of waste and their use of toxic materials are reduced dramatically. Much has been done with recycling of construction and demolition debris, but much more can be done.
Without proper incentives, recycling goals will not be achieved, and we transfer the real cost of our disposal practices to our health bills and to our children. According to the EPA 1994 Dioxin Reassessment, most of us living in the U.S. have enough dioxin in our systems to cause visible, identifiable health problems. Endometriosis, Attention Deficit Disorder, prostate cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, liver disease, and immune deficiency are among the many afflictions associated with dioxin exposure.
Pay-per-bag systems for non-recycled municipal waste, similar pay-per-ton incentives for construction and demolition wastes, and fostering large-scale city and town recycling efforts, are the mechanisms for dealing with whatever "crises" are on the horizon. But let's not call it waste management. Instead, let us call it "resource management" For we are faced now with the choice of wholesale destruction of vast resources and the inevitable degradation of the environment, or the conservation of those resources and cleaning up the environment.
The trash disposal industry exerts enormous pressure to increase landfill and incinerator capacity. By doing this, they are going in a direction in which they are going to be the losers. A few of them have embraced recycling, and that is an encouraging sign. Massachusetts citizens are becoming aware of the choice I spoke of above and the environmental and health consequences of landfills and incinerators. The opposition to these outdated concepts is growing daily. Media attention has begun to focus on the wastefulness, environmental burden, and economic hardship that these facilities inevitably place upon the host communities and even on their customers.
I urge you to maintain the moratorium on municipal solid waste landfills and incinerators, and on landfills for construction and demolition waste, which contain many extremely toxic materials such as asbestos, fiberglass, wood treatment chemicals, and lead paint chips.
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