Thursday, April 22, 2010

Trash Pickers Unite!

Happy Earth Day! This morning, staff at Syracuse Center of Excellence celebrated by cleaning up the trash around our perimeter, the Almond/Water/Washington/Forman streets block in downtown Syracuse.

Our neighborhood is, in terms of infrastructure, urban planning, and landscaping, pretty ugly. The sidewalks have been cracked by years of ice and snow removal, dandelions appear to have won their battle with grass on what verges are still green, and trash—a modern human response to an ugly environment—was everywhere.

We—Carissa Matthews, Aimee Clinkhammer, Stacy Bunce, and Elysa Smigielski, and myself—picked up around 15 pounds of trash from the curbs, our perimeter fence, our parking lot, and the "grass" verges. The items we picked up offer both an instant archeological record of our society and evidence that there are a few industries and companies who are responsible for the lion's share of the unrecyclable materials that become trash. Pressure should be put on them to change their ways, just as pressure was put on the tobacco industry when society decided it had had enough of smoking.
  • Cigarette butts were everywhere, actually, in various slow stages of decomposition, most abundant at intersections where smokers casually toss them out of cars. That the smoking industry has yet to offer a compostable filter is amazing. They've only had 85 years; the filter was invented (using sustainable materials, in fact) in 1925.
  • Fast food wrappers, and especially plastic straws and plastic cup lids, were common. The fast food industry must be persuaded—by a combination of legislation and demand—to offer these items in recyclable form: compostable plastic lids and paper straws, for instance.
  • Small (quarter size) pieces of styrofoam—mostly packaging material, on its way to breaking down and down and down until it enters the soil and water as undissolvable pieces too small to see. Styrofoam as a material of "throwaway items" such as cups and packaging ought to be banned.
  • Candy wrappers—the candy industry needs to assess the ecological costs of using plastic wrappers when alternatives exist. Again, a combination of top down (legislation) and bottom up (consumer demand) tactics should be used on Mars, Nestle, and the industry's other behemoths, who both create trash and contribute to the public health crisis of obesity.
We sent two bags to the recycling bins—paper/cardboard and bottles/metal—and sent the rest to the landfill. Here's hoping there's less work for us to do on Earth Day 2011.

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

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