Trash into cash: 3 ways cities are creating value and cutting waste

Fri, 2016-02-19 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

Every time you throw something away, you’re throwing away money. And collectively, we’re throwing more away than ever. A troubling World Bank report finds that by the turn of the century, we’re on pace to triple the amount of solid waste we are generating today.

All that waste is wasted money. It costs money to transport and dispose of it. And it costs money to clean up the environmental damage that results from incinerating it.

So to help you save more and reduce your environmental footprint, here are some great ideas you may want to try in your own city. — Kevin Ebi

Save by sharing with those in need
Some of what’s thrown away could actually help people. For instance, grocery stores throw out a significant amount of food — food that could provide nutrition for those in need.

A new law in France bars supermarkets from discarding edible food. In poor areas, people have been known to go Dumpster diving for food. Instead of giving it to them, grocery stores have doused their discarded food in bleach so it can’t be consumed.

The law requires larger grocery stores to forge partnerships with local food banks. If they don’t, they can be fined. And if they want to get rid of food before its expiration date, they are required to donate it.

Given that this helps people and keeps edible food out of landfills, supporters are now trying to make this the law throughout the European Union.

Finding the good in trash
Do you know how much of an old mattress is actually recyclable? Council Associate Partner Veolia says nearly all of it is.

Veolia is working on a revolutionary mattress recycling program in France that aims to recycle 90% of discarded mattresses. The metal, foam, latex, fabric and so on can all find a second life in everything from new cars and insulated doors to new furniture.

One of the company’s new processing facilities in western France is able to handle 4,000 mattresses each month — finding new life for what would have been 1,000 metric tons of waste over the course of a year. (And this work also creates jobs!)

And it’s not stopping with mattresses. It eventually wants to recycle at least 80% of all old furniture.

Make it easy for people to recycle
If you are finding a lot of recyclables in your city’s waste, you may want to think about making it easier for people to recycle. Even people who think recycling is a good idea likely think that separating different types of paper and colors of glass into different bins is too much bother. And, as a result, perfectly recyclable material ends up in the trash.

Organic Energy Company developed separation technology that’s letting people throw all of their recyclables into one bin. And as you’d suspect, the easier it is, the more people are willing to do it. Montgomery, Alabama, effectively went from nobody recycling to everybody recycling within just one month of introducing one-bin recycling (the recycling rate jumped from 1% to 70%.) Houston, Texas, is in the process of rolling it out to all of its residents.

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All that garbage: Cities explore one-bin recycling to reduce waste (and cost)
Technology stops food waste in India
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