A Note From Our Chapter Chair
Let's Talk Trash
Photo: Food waste that could be composted
Photo credit: Ben Kerckx
We had a busy and inspiring Earth Month! I want to thank the many volunteers who helped out by tabling at over 10 Earth Day events this year! Tabling gives us an opportunity to meet new people and talk about our campaigns to protect the environment and fight the climate crisis. This helps us grow! And because every day is Earth Day at Sierra Club there are some great events coming up, like EarthFest in Niantic on May 13, and a chance to walk and talk with a Master Gardener in her West Hartford garden on May 16 (register here).
Find all of our upcoming events here.
Our Legislative Committee has been hard at work, along with allies, to pass strong bills to strengthen our environmental justice laws, provide a roadmap to meeting our climate goals, support weatherization and energy efficiency in housing, protect wildlife, and turn off the tap of toxic chemicals impacting all of us. Please check out our progress in the Legislative Update article. And watch your inbox for actions you can take to help get these bills passed! Here are our current actions.
With all the important campaigns we have, I have been concentrating on trash. Now, you may wonder why, when the climate crisis looms and, as Greta Thunberg says, “we are two years - one fifth of the way - into what is called the decisive decade”, why would I choose to focus on trash?
Let’s talk trash!
First, it is timely. Trash has become a priority for our legislature due to the closing of the Hartford MIRA incinerator, which has given us no choice but to more than double the amount of waste we are exporting to landfills in other states, from 400,000 tons to 860,000 tons annually. Our legislature and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) rightly cringe at this and are determined to make Connecticut self-sufficient in managing our waste. That sounds positive, but Sierra Club, as part of the Connecticut Zero Waste Coalition, is urging them to shift their focus from management of a waste crisis to reduction of the waste stream using Zero Waste methods. If policies to reduce, reuse, and effectively recycle are implemented, two-thirds or more of the waste can be diverted. For example, about twenty two percent of Connecticut’s waste stream is organic waste. This can be separated, composted, or sent to an anaerobic digestion facility.
More can be removed from the waste stream through more efficient recycling. If paper is separated and kept clean, it is a valuable product in the recycling market, but currently paper is often contaminated by food and broken glass in single stream recycling, and it ends up in the incinerator. Separate stream recycling would allow high quality glass, paper, aluminum, etc. to be diverted and sold, reducing the amount of waste going to the incinerators and the burden of trash tipping fees to our towns. Less waste to burn also saves us all from air pollution and toxic emissions coming from our four remaining trash incinerators.
Sierra Club Connecticut is supporting several bills that would increase the amount of food waste collected and we hope to improve others that have the potential to increase recycling. We are fighting to prevent false solutions, like “chemical recycling” (also called “advanced recycling”), which are being pushed by fossil fuel interests, to grow the plastic industry, a case of “greenwashing.”
A priority for us is a ban on single use plastics. The U.S. discards around 80 tons of packaging waste annually, and much of this is single use plastic food and takeout products like plastic cutlery, stirrers, and straws. Plastics are sourced from fossil fuels, and getting single use plastics out of our waste stream would not only reduce it significantly, but it would also help to reduce our dependence on oil and gas products, and reduce the pollution, toxicity, and greenhouse gasses that go along with that industry.
The Sierra Club recognizes the impacts of plastics in the environment worldwide, especially in our oceans and waterways. We call for the minimization and elimination of single-use plastics such as cutlery, cups, lids, straws, bags, beverage bottles, cigarette butts, and expanded polystyrene packaging.
In March, Sierra Club hosted a Zero Waste Coalition display in the State Capitol concourse. The poster display highlighted waste reduction measures before the Connecticut General Assembly, and concerns about incineration and polluting “chemical recycling” facilities. In addition to the display, members of the Zero Waste Coalition were on site tabling and sharing information with legislators and other visitors. Take a virtual trip to see the Zero Waste Display at the Legislative Office Building.
Here is an action you can take to support bills to reduce single-use plastics and reduce food waste. I hope you’ll share it with your legislators!
Working towards strong Zero Waste policies right now can guide Connecticut for the next decades, and we want to get it right!
Even more importantly, trash is a significant contributor to climate change!
Reducing the overwhelming amounts of waste we are generating has the additional benefit of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting a more sustainable economy. Sierra Club policy states:
Our current methods of extracting natural resources, turning them into products and packaging used for ever shorter periods of time, and then discarding them is not sustainable and contributes significantly to a wide variety of negative impacts such as forest and open space destruction, ocean pollution, litter, water and air pollution and climate change.
In 2009, to better understand and describe the connections between materials and land management and climate change, the U.S. EPA evaluated U.S. greenhouse gas emissions using a “system-based view,” where each system represents and comprises all the parts of the economy working to fulfill a particular need. According to this analysis, about half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. are derived from the extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal of products, packaging and food. These emissions could be significantly reduced through implementation of Zero Waste policies and programs.
With a systems-based approach, our local “waste crisis” becomes a part of the global threat from current solid waste management, one of the top three greenhouse gas emitters (including up to 20% of methane emissions). The so-called “waste crisis” is truly an opportunity to make progress in the fight to save our planet!
Addressing our surplus waste is urgent both for the direct issues of overconsumption and its consequences and for its contribution to our greenhouse gas footprint. It needs to be done quickly, and that will not happen without strong support from the grassroots, municipalities, and state agencies, working together.
Let’s get this done right!
Susan Eastwood is Chapter Chair of Sierra Club Connecticut.