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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Controversy in RI/Thanks to Greg Gerritt

Lots of talk, meetings, unrest in RI about the stench floating across the State from the Landfill.

We are going to focus on this issue the next couple of shows (and there are some good, possible solutions which would benefit our local ecological system, too), but here's a good starting point on an essay sent to us by the head of the RI Environment Council, Greg Gerritt:

"The smell from the landfill is primarily the result of the decay of organic matter buried in it. If we stopped burying food scrap and other organics, and instead composted them, the smell from the landfill would be greatly diminished over time, and we would be producing compost that can be used to revitalize agricultural soils in Rhode Island, improve the economy in our communities, and increase our community resilience in the face of climate change. More and more communities all over the world are composting every day.

Unfortunately in Rhode Island it is so cheap to just pick up everything and dump it on the hill at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation’s Central Landfill in Johnston. The legislature has artifically set a very low tip fee, which totally skews the conomics of trash and recycling. Now they are holding hearings and pounding tables about the inability of RIRRC to fix the problem without looking at themselves in the mirror and realizing they are the ones who caused the problem in the first place by setting up such an off balance system. The report in the paper on the legislative hearing reminds me of the hearings in Providence by the City Council after the City started the no bin, no barrel policy of mandatory recycling. There was a three week shakeout period in which there were some problems. There is always a shakeout period, but the City Council, knowing in advance there were problems with the roll out, did nothing until the stench rose. Then they pounded on tables yelling pick up the garbage. I went to the hearing, and some of the Councillorsx acknowledged it was all for show. They knew the problems were getting solved, but they had to look good, partly to make up for the fact that they did nothing at the times when they could actually have made a difference.

"Reading about the legislative hearing about the stench I saw nothing about anyone pointing out the real long term solutions. Yes there is a need for short term resolution of the stench, but ultimately we have to stop burying food scrap and use it as the valuable resource it is. Taking proper care of the materials we are disposing of, including those that are critical to growing food, costs a little more than just tossing trash on the hill and burying it. But if we take proper care, we dramatically over time reduce the smells and the high emissions of greenhouse gases such as methane that are 21 times as effective at reflecting heat waves back to earth as carbon dioxide. Yes, in these hard times no one can afford to pay more to dispose of things, but we can not afford to keep throwing valuable resources away and polluting at the same time.

Landfills are one of the largest sources of methane emissions in the United States and the simple solution is the one that creates the most value for the community. Compost all food scrap instead of burying it.

For many years I lived near paper mills, and when the weather was right, it was enough to make you gag, so I have some idea what the folks near the landfill are experiencing. In fact the releases are mostly the same sulfur containing compounds. We need some short term solutions to reduce the smell today, but we also need the long term solution of collecting and composting food scrap. I am asking all of our policy leaders to join in the discussion of how best to remove the structural impediments that prevent us from taking advantage of a valuable resource and fully develop our compost industry. We will all breathe and eat better."

Greg Gerritt
Coordinator RI Compost Initiative A project of the Environment Council of RI and the Greater Providence Urban Agriculture Task Force

Let us know your thoughts on this, and we'd love to get comments from people living in other states who are either dealing with the same or have fixed this same problem.

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