Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rethinking Waste to Energy

Cut your garbage bill in half and reinvest in solar.

“Waste to Energy” is another word for incinerator, which is the quickest way to flood an impromptu neighborhood potluck with activists. Waste to Energy could also mean spending less on garbage and more on community solar, for one example.

Our monthly garbage bill is a rough 25 dollars. The savings offered by a smaller bin isn’t much of an incentive. However, sharing a trashcan with a neighbor would cut our bill in half. Since we don’t use but a quarter of our 25-dollar throwing capacity, theoretically we could join forces with three other households and reduce our bill to less than ten dollars a month. This should be possible in a city that leaves its residents to hiring private contractors instead of providing a mandatory municipal service. Nevertheless, any city could choose to invest millions in renewable energy with savings afforded by a simple garbage reduction strategy.

As long as we’re playing loose with the numbers, let’s consider that there are 3000 single-family households in the Merriam Park and Lex-Ham neighborhoods. On average each household splitting a garbage bill with a neighbor would save $12.50 a month. This is a collective savings of $39,000, or $450,000 a year. Invest that savings into neighborhood solar arrays, and we have honest Waste to Energy. The tangible benefits of such an effort would be all around us: solar arrays along the freeway, on the rooftops of businesses and public buildings, and in the parks. It’s a huge payoff for a small effort.

Rethinking our mundane habits can be a challenge that makes me feel downright impatient with the attachment we can have to conventions that are no longer serving us well. Voluntarily pooling resources on a scale that can visibly benefit our neighborhood is also challenging. But even with a 2 percent participation rate, the neighborhood could divert almost 10 thousand dollars annually from waste to clean energy. Sixty households would be enough for a convincing demonstration.

Obviously, sharing a garbage bill means reducing our garbage output. It means reusing, repairing, reselling, repurposing, and recycling and otherwise diverting stuff from the waste stream. Composting would practically be a requirement. Whatever our fears about that, placing a few carrot peels on compost heap is a small price to pay for the added bonus of a neighborhood that is resilient and dotted with solar arrays.

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