Town of Geneva Climate Smart Coordinator Jacob Fox answers your questions about recycling, composting, lawn care, etc.
• • •
Today’s question: Are landfills our future?
The 50-mile region around Geneva is home to the three largest landfills in New York state. These landfills take a significant amount of state waste as well as waste from a few of our neighboring states, and even Canada. This model of waste management is called “centralized waste management.” It depends on the affordability of large-truck travel and rural land. This model also does not incentivize waste diversion.
The landfill is like our safety net for waste. A few decades ago, without safety nets, our residents were burning trash or throwing it in unregulated “landfills.” However, we need to realize that safety nets are called safety nets because they should not be the primary option. Our communities need a “decentralized solution,” where we can maximize waste diversion, save money, and begin the path to “zero waste.”
What is zero-waste? Is it an idealistic aspiration or an attainable step toward community resiliency? What if I told you it was both.
Today, zero waste is almost impossible, but tomorrow it could be possible. For example, when you get something fragile shipped to you as a present, it often comes in Styrofoam packing peanuts. Even if you are the most conscious consumer and recycler, you are stuck with something that has to be landfilled. Those packing peanuts could be made out of something that was biodegradable, so you could just throw those packing peanuts into your compost. These alternative materials exist, but most of them are not mainstream. One main reason is because most of our communities do not have the infrastructure to collect the biodegradable packing peanuts, all they have is a landfill. So the companies who makes the biodegradable packing peanuts find it hard to sell to customers because their products would have to be thrown in the landfill.
So what are the next steps for our waste management?
We need a decentralized solution that will incentivize waste diversion locally as our primary option and use the landfills as our safety net until we have reached zero waste.
Now what does this decentralized facility look like? It handles organic waste onsite, because it makes no sense to remove materials that can be broken down onsite. A waste material is priced based on how difficult it is to recycle/dispose of and how far it needs to travel. Over time, this will reduce the amount of landfill waste. This facility gives users the opportunity to try alternatively manufactured products so they can reduce their landfill stream. Over time, we reduce our dependence on that safety net, and build community resilience. Please stay tuned to the opening of the City of Geneva Resource Recovery Park in the next few months. This facility will be the first step on our quest for zero-waste.