Is it Climate Change?

On August 1, some 14,000 households in Tiburon, Belvedere, Corte Madera, Mill Valley and Strawberry will be urged to make a lifestyle change. You may be surprised when I tell you what this change entails, but stay with me—a larger issue is involved.

Starting in August, the above southern Marin communities will be asked to put their chicken bones, coffee grounds, steak gristle and leftover mashed potatoes—yes, their garbage—in the same bin as their yard waste. This means only disposable diapers, little plastic items and waxy paper cups go in the garbage bin. In addition, no more washing leftover food down your garbage disposal. Once again: your food garbage will now go in the yard waste bin. “Yuck,” I hear you saying. “Flies and raccoons will detect the odor and get to it first—my yard waste is only collected every other week.”

Fear not. “Yard waste pickups will now be once a week,” says Jim Iavarone, co-owner of Mill Valley Refuse Service, “and those sturdy 32-gallon green yard waste bins have tight lids.“ Trash collection rates will also be increased, but only by an average of $2 a month. (Fair warning: Marin Sanitary Service, which serves all San Rafael and the entire Ross Valley along with Novato Disposal are close to adopting similar programs.)

Why the change? The answer is food waste composting, or “transforming decaying organic material into a substance that increases the fertility of soil.” And why composting? “Because it helps keep more waste out of our Redwood Landfill,” says Jessica Jones, district manager for Waste Management, the landfill’s owner/operator. “With composting, food scraps along with yard waste can be trucked in, put through a grinder, then aerated several times, and put through a sieve to eliminate metals and plastics,” Jones adds. “Then it’s actually trucked out and sold to farmers, vintners and landscapers.” According to her, it’s part of Marin’s goal of having zero waste by the year 2024. “It’s a way of ‘closing the loop,’” Jones says. “It converts food into an organic material that enables us to grow more food.”

Others see a different reason for putting food scraps in yard waste bins. And this is where that bigger issue comes into play. “When garbage—namely food scraps—sits in a landfill (not composted) it emits large amounts of methane gases,” says Carol Misseldine, the City of Mill Valley’s director of sustainability, “and methane is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide.”

Misseldine directly connects greenhouse gas emissions to global climate change. “An overwhelming number of the world’s scientists, including the majority of our Nobel Prize winning scientists,” she says, “have unequivocally declared that greenhouse gases—resulting primarily from human activity—are the primary cause of global warming; their evidence is extremely conclusive.” Misseldine and her husband, Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan, acknowledge concern over global warming greatly influences their lifestyle decisions, including their enthusiasm for food waste composting.

Now for that larger question: must you believe in global climate change in order to embrace the hassle of putting scraps of meat and soiled napkins in a special pail under your sink, then carting them to your yard waste bin? If your answer is, “Of course not!” Then . . . why not? In other words, why live an eco-friendly lifestyle if you don’t believe in global warming?

“It’s silly to connect the two,” says Helen Lindqvist of Tiburon, who with her husband,   Bill, is among Marin’s handful of residents who studiously and consistently debunk global warming theories. “We lead a sustainable lifestyle because it’s the proper thing to do,” adds Bill. “The earth’s resources are finite; no one should waste them.” As for global warming, he maintains, “Changes to the earth’s climate have occurred repeatedly for hundreds of millions of years; what has happened climate-wise over the past century is nothing different.”

Where do you stand? Is the world’s climate warming because of humankind’s unsustainable modern ways? Or is climate change scientific bunk? And do you live a green lifestyle? If so, why?

Me? I drive a hybrid; take public transportation when practical; consistently use canvas shopping bags; regularly install energy-saving light bulbs (and turn them off the minute they’re not needed); have a (mostly) drought tolerant garden; recycle plastic news-wraps and look forward to food waste composting. However, global warming is not my motivation. I do it because it makes me feel good. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?

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