Marin's Trash Crunch
How to head off another crisis
The Disney-Pixar animated hit movie Wall-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth–class) depicts an Earth of the future so overrun with trash that humans head into space to enjoy life.
In a way, that’s close to happening now. New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco already truck, train and barge their hundreds of tons of daily trash and garbage to distant landfills that are rapidly filling. Hoping to counteract this trend, a London suburb fines residents $225 if they overload their trash bins with just inches of too much waste, even though much of it can be recycled. One Englishman put it this way: “Ultimately, as a country, we have to do more. We can’t just keep producing and throwing things away.”
Marin can also do more. “As a county, Marin recycles about 70 percent of its trash, which is good,” says Patty Garbarino of Marin Sanitary in San Rafael. “But we also throw away more tons of stuff per capita than any county in California, and California discards more trash than any state in the country.”
Meanwhile, Marin’s only landfill, the 220-acre Redwood Landfill north of Novato off Highway 101, is facing challenges. It has been trying to expand for more than 10 years, but has recently cut back those plans in the face of concerns from environmental groups such as the Marin Conservation League, the Sierra Club and The Bay Institute. “From Marin, every day we receive nearly 600 tons of garbage and about 500 tons of recyclables and green waste, wood and concrete,” says site manager Jessica Jones. “As landfills go, we’re relatively small.”
As well as addressing environmental concerns, Waste Management Inc., owner of the 19.1 million-cubic-yard landfill, reduced its planned expansion by 35 percent to 25 million cubic yards. “They appear committed to staying with Redwood Landfill,” says Marin County Board of Supervisors President Charles McGlashan. “After receiving necessary permits,” he adds, “they’re interested in developing such innovations as a methane digester for food scraps and green waste and a Construction and Demolition Recovery Center. There’s little risk of them quitting the landfill.”
“The county is fortunate to have Redwood Landfill,” says Jim Iavarone, a co-owner of Mill Valley Refuse. “If we lose it, we’ll have to transport Marin’s waste elsewhere.”
What would be good for Marin’s environment and alleviate pressure on Redwood Landfill is adherence to the following Four Commandments regarding trash, garbage, recyclables and other unwanted stuff. They were etched in stone after conversing with refuse company executives, trash collectors and landfill employees:
1. Thou Shalt Not Attempt to Recycle Plastic Bags: “Plastic bags should be illegal,” Marin Refuse’s Joe Garbarino all but yells at whoever will listen. “They’re the curse of our industry—no one wants them.” This includes newspaper delivery bags as well as bags handed out at supermarkets. An alternative: Buy several reusable grocery bags (the cost is trivial) so there’s always one in your car.
2. Thou Shalt Rinse Plastic Bottles and Jars Before Recycling Them: “It’s just being considerate,” says Mill Valley’s Iavarone. “Although some recycling is done by magnets and machines, people still sort through it by hand to finish the job.” Remember: plastics, “contaminated” by food particles should go to the dump instead of being recycled.
3. Thou Shalt Not Recycle Styrofoam, Black Nursery Pots or Clothes Hangers: “They just jam up the works,” says Marin trash collector Joe Aguirre. His simple solution: “Bring ’em back where you got ’em.” Mail services can reuse “peanuts,” ditto for nurseries with black plastic pots and dry cleaners with wire coat hangers.
4. Thou Shalt Not Put Unwanted Paint, TVs, Computers, Microwave Ovens, Cell Phones or Fluorescent Lights in Your Recycle or Garbage Bins: First, it’s against the law. Second, you can find our how to dispose of such items correctly by looking under “R” in the yellow pages of the AT&T phone book, by calling 415.485.6806 or 415.457.9760, or by clicking on marinmax.org or ireuse.com.
“It would be great if we’d become less of a ‘disposal society,’” says Redwood Landfill’s Jessica Jones. “If, whenever possible, we’d purchase only goods that are long lasting, reusable and recyclable. That way we’d have much less stuff winding up in the landfill.” That’s precisely my point of view. What’s yours?