The City of San Francisco recently announced that it would ban the sale of bottled water in containers less than 21 oz on city property. San Francisco will be the first major city in the US to enact such a ban, though Concord, Massachusetts and Grand Canyon National Park have already replaced bottled water with water bottle filling stations. With a unanimous vote from the SF board of supervisors, elected officials expressed their support for the bill because of the benefits to the environment.
Critics of the new bill claim that water bottles cause a negligible environmental impact because they are made of recyclable plastic. However, even the International Bottled Water Association, a group that represents the bottled water industry, acknowledges that only 38% of water bottles are recycled. The environmental advocacy group Ban the Bottle purports that in fact, a mere 23% are recycled, which reflects the total percentage of plastic recycling nationwide. However, focusing on the landfill versus recycling equation distracts from another environmental cost of bottled water – the production and transport of the bottles. San Francisco Board of Supervisors President, David Chiu, illustrated this point with a water bottle one-quarter full of oil – the amount of fuel it takes to produce and transport one 1.5-pound bottle.
Each year, 9.82 billion plastic water bottles are purchased and 17,677 tons of discarded bottles end up in the waste stream in New York City alone, according to the Department of Sanitation. Since NYC started paying $91 per ton to ship waste out-of-state in 2009, and those costs are expected to rise, that amounts to at least $1.6 million a year spent on the disposal of plastic water bottles. While there are certainly more pressing waste issues in NYC at the moment, such as composting organic waste, San Francisco provides a precedent for waste reduction and environmental sustainability.
If you’ve been to Sneak Peak, perhaps you’ve noticed your own reflection in the side of a Department of Sanitation garbage truck.
This 20 cubic-yard garbage truck faced with hand-tempered mirror is The Social Mirror by artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles. The Social Mirror debuted in the grand finale of the first NYC Art Parade in 1983 and was most recently exhibited at the 2007 Armory Show. According to Ukeles, “This project allowed citizens to see themselves linked with the handlers of their waste.”
Since publishing Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969!, Ukeles’s work has revolved around the role of the artist and our relationship to maintenance and service work, and most importantly the workers who perform these essential, everyday tasks for the rest of society. She has worked as the first and only official artist-in-residence for the New York City Department of Sanitation since 1977, where her projects have included Touch Sanitation (1978-1984) and Flow City (1983-1996) .
Not surprisingly, Ukeles has also played an important role in the Freshkills Park project, advocating for a public park on the site since 1989. She has produced several gallery installations on Freshkills and was a contributor to the Draft Master Plan for the park. Ukeles is currently designing a permanent nature viewing platform and two related earth works in South Park as part of the City’s Percent for Art program.
Find out more about maintenance art and Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s work in this video from the 2011 Creative Time Summit.
A new study released this week by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that 40 percent of food produced in the United States ends up in the trash, making food waste the single largest portion of trash in our landfills. While the amount of food thrown away has increased by 50 percent since the 1970s, one in six Americans struggles to pay for food today.
And then there’s the energy used in the production, transport, processing, and disposal of the food, only for it to be thrown away. According to a study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group, nearly 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from producing and processing food. At Freshkills Park, buried food waste is part of the decomposing organic material that produces Landfill Gas (LFG), a byproduct of anaerobic decomposition which is collected and processed to extract methane. The methane produced at Freshkills Park is then sold for use in providing energy to local homes on Staten Island. However, across much of the U.S., LFG- a mix of methane, carbon dioxide, and other contaminants- ends up in the atmosphere and is an important contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
What can be done? There are many ways to prevent food from ending up in the garbage. According to NPR, new innovations in how food waste is dealt with are being developed to facilitate collaboration and changes in habits at many different scales, from food consumers to food retailers and food producers. The Environmental Protection Agency also provides a useful webpage with resources on donating food to food banks and food rescue programs.
If food must be thrown out, one alternative to the landfill is the compost bin. The New York City Compost Project provides low cost compost bins, education, and information on community-based composting projects and will be doing composting demonstrations at the Sneak Peak event at Freshkills Park on Sunday, September 23rd. In New York City, a growing number of local Greenmarkets are now also collecting food scraps for compost to use in local gardening projects and urban farms.
(via Good and NPR)
West Coast cities such as San Francisco, Portland and Seattle have recently become leaders in the effort to reduce the size of landfills by enacting a myriad of cutting-edge recycling programs. The New York Times reports that in Portland, a new biweekly garbage pickup schedule will cut back on the waste sent to landfills by 44 percent. In San Francisco composting has become part of the daily routine for many single-family homes and has contributed to the 78 percent of waste that is recycled and reused by local residents (while the national average stands at a measly 34 percent). The city is also exploring innovative ways of recycling notoriously difficult materials, such as foam and complex plastics. While in Seattle, the bright colors and intelligent new design of the South Waste Transfer Station will give this kind of building a more positive reputation within the community and serve as a more efficient interior workspace. Although the small population size of these cities makes these kinds of recycling programs relatively easier to enact, they serve as important and inspiring examples of what cities across America can do to cut back and reuse waste rather than increasing the mass of landfills.
A closed landfill in Canton, Massachusetts plans to implement solar power infrastructure that will generate $16.3 million for the city. The landfill sat unused for over 20 years when city officials decided to build a solar array on the site that will include 19,844 solar panels, citing the relatively low investment and significant return. Additionally, this system involves a ‘non-invasive’ mounting system that was developed to prevent landfill cap disturbance. City officials reported the solar generation won out over other options because of the return on investment and relatively short timeframe – one year from construction to operation.
‘Renewable energy can be beautiful.’ That is the tagline for the 2012 Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) international design competition. The open LAGI competition calls for ideas to “design a site-specific public artwork that also functions as clean energy infrastructure for New York City.” This year the contest partners with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and the site is within the 2,200 acre Freshkills Park on Staten Island. There is a $20,000 jury-awarded prize and a related $1,000 design prize for high school students. The competition opened January 1, 2012 and will close on July 1, 2012.
A recent look at a centuries-old landfill – the eighth hill of Rome – presents new insight into the variety of uses and cultural identities reclaimed landfills today might strive toward. On Places, architect Michael Ezban explores the history and current status of Monte Testaccio as an integral part of the Roman urban fabric. As a depository for the shards of millions of olive oil-transporting clay vessels, known as amphorae, Monte Testaccio reached a height of over 100 feet throughout several centuries. Because of its composition, this otherwise inactive landfill has become an active and useful part of the urban landscape in the centuries since. It has been a material stockpile, housed wine cellars, served as a setting for passion plays, competitive festivities, and military training, and hosted a wide range of both marginalized populations and commercial activities at its base.
In Ezban’s article, Freshkills Park is mentioned in particular as an example of modern reclamation that similarly “integrates multiple functions and constituencies” in its design.
As a historical model, Monte Testaccio provides a particularly interesting case study, reflecting the many possibilities inherent in contemporary aspirations to transform waste landscapes into productive, multivalent spaces.
(via Places: Design Observer)
Continuing with the increasingly popular efforts to become a more sustainable metropolis, Mexico City has initiated a new barter-style market in which residents can trade recyclable materials for locally grown foodstuffs.
The opening of the new government sponsored (website in Spanish) market follows similar events lauded by environmentalists such as the closure of the Bordo Peniente Landfill, and green vertical gardens which we’ve previously blogged about.
Residents may bring materials such as aluminum cans, cardboard and paper, glass, and PET plastic bottles to the market in return for “green points.” These points can be redeemed for agricultural products grown in and around Mexico City such as lettuce, spinach, prickly pears, tomatoes, plants, and flowers.
“The intention is to encourage and support the producers of soil conservation in order to raise public awareness of the local supply,” writes the Ministry. “It’s important to consume local products to avoid large shipments of goods, reduce the carbon footprint, generate fair trade and maintain agricultural lands south of the city.”
Different materials are worth different amounts of “green points.” The market operates once a month and nearly sold out at its grand opening.
This Monday Gelf Magazine, an NYC-based independent webzine “looking over the overlooked”, will host Geeky Garbage, a discussion about one of the most overlooked aspect of our daily lives — waste. On hand will be former Freshkills Park Talks lecturers Robin Nagle (DSNY anthropologist-in-residence) and Howard Warren (expert on the Barren Island/Dead Horse Bay), with Max Liboiron, a trash artist and pollution activist. Be sure to read Gelf’s interview with Nagle for a preview of what to expect.
The discussion will take place at The Gallery at LPR and is free of charge, though donations are encouraged.
Monday, February 20th | 7:30 p.m.
The Gallery at LPR
158 Bleecker Street, Manhattan
The film is a brief profile of the small but highly efficient Delaware County Landfill in Upstate New York, which is using a system of composting, recycling, and landfill gas (LFG) capture not unlike the one used at Fresh Kills two decades ago. The all-in-one facility is able to divert 70% of its material through recycling and composting, and converts its LFG to electricity through incineration, producing enough to power 300-400 homes.