Showing posts with label climate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label climate. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In a Landfill, How Long Does Trash Really Last?

By: Brie Cadman (View Profile)

We’ve all been there—at the beach, empty beer bottle in hand, a trash can, but no recycling bin in sight. So we dump the bottle in the normal trash, perhaps feeling guilty we weren’t able to recycle it, perhaps not. Most likely, we rapidly forget about it—out of sight, out of mind, and onto the next beer.

The bottle, like the rest of our trash, may slip easily from our hands and minds, but it doesn’t leave our collective refuse piles so quickly. Landfills, which are lined with clay and plastic, layered with soil, and capped, are not extremely hospitable when it comes to microbial degradation. The three necessary components for decomposition—sunlight, moisture, oxygen—are hard to come by in a landfill; items are more likely to mummify than to break down.

But how long do things last? These rough estimates, compiled from U.S. National Park Service, United States Composting Council, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Sciences, and the New York City government, give an idea of how long our consumables remain after we’ve kissed them goodbye.

Glass Bottle—One Million Years
Okay, we don’t really know whether a glass bottle takes a million years, two million years, or a million years and one day to degrade since no one has been monitoring them for that long. But suffice it to say, when a glass bottle isn’t recycled, it sticks around for a really, really long time. Glass is primarily of composed of silica—the same material as sand—and doesn’t break down even under the harshest environments. Given the relatively inert conditions of a landfill, it’s likely the bottle of beer our forefathers sipped is still at large.

Plastic Bags—Unknown, Possibly 500+ Years
Plastic bags also have a hard time decomposing; estimates range from ten to twenty years when exposed to air to 500–1,000 years in a landfill. Since microbes don’t recognize polyethylene—the major component of plastic bags—as food, breakdown rates by this means in landfills is virtually nil. Though plastic bags can photodegrade, sunlight in landfills is scarce. Made with petroleum and rarely recycled, many cities have banned them in order to curb consumption and prevent their long-lasting presence in litter (e.g., the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—an island you don’t want to visit).

Plastic Beverage Bottles—Unknown, Possible 500+ years
Bottles face the same problem as plastic bags. Most soda and water bottles are composed of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a petroleum-based product that tends to last a long time in a landfill. Even newer bottles that claim to be biodegradable or photodegradable may take much longer than advertised. According to the Air and Waste Association, biodegradable plastics made with the addition of starch may just simply disintegrate into smaller non-degradable pieces: they don’t break down; they break up.

Monday, May 5, 2008

According to numbers from Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment Ireland (Dublin), the citizens of the Emerald Isle more than doubled its 2007 goal for per-capita WEEE collection from 8.8 pounds to 19.8 pounds per person … According to the Consumer Electronics Association (Arlington, Virginia), the average U.S. consumer spent $1,405 on consumer electronics in the last 12 months, $120 more than the previous year … Kyocera Wireless Corp. (San Diego) has been awarded its eighth consecutive recycling honor by San Diego city officials for its green efforts. The company recycled 75 percent of its waste in 2007, conserving more than 3.3 million kilowatts of electricity … The Environmental Protection Agency's Region 7 office in Kansas City collected 10 tons of unwanted electronics on Earth Day … Electronics retail giant Circuit City (Richmond, Virginia) has launched a green Web site, offering consumers various ways to purchase, use and recycle electronics in an environmentally responsible manner … A broad coalition of environmental organizations came out strongly against Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman's veto of Legislative Bill 986, which would have established a producer responsibility e-scrap recovery program. "The governor has chosen to defy the wishes of a wide range of Nebraskans," said Ken Winston, a paid lobbyist for the Nebraska Sierra Club (Lincoln). "His veto only supports out-of-state special interest groups."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Climate Update

World's big polluters meet in Hawaii over climate

January 27, 2008 07:39 AM - Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The world's biggest greenhouse gas-polluting countries are sending delegates to Hawaii this week for a U.S.-hosted meeting aimed at curbing climate change without stalling economic growth. The two-day gathering, which starts on Wednesday in Honolulu, is meant to spur U.N. negotiations for an international climate agreement by 2009, so a pact will be ready when the current carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

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