Working towards peace and sustainability

Climate Sez: Waste Not!

Hello friends,

This message is addressed to all Columbia residents concerned about the environment and, in particular, about climate change.

Columbia is currently seeking citizen input as to which direction we should head regarding refuse collection. While much of the discussion centers on whether or not to switch to roll carts, there is much more at stake in terms of the climate. We expound on this below and hope you will read it.

We also hope you will take the opportunity to have input into the process. You can do this in several ways including:  1) Attending and speaking at a public input meeting to be held at the ARC 6-8 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 31. 2) Taking a survey the City has put together that can be accessed if you CLICK HERE. and 3) Contacting the City Council sharing your thoughts. Their contact info is available if you CLICK HERE.  

Below you will find some of Peaceworks’ thoughts as to how to address this. We also welcome your feedback on this. And, of course, please feel free to share this.

Waste Minimization: The Climate Imperative.

The City of Columbia has made a commitment to address the existential threat represented by climate change. To do this, we—as a city and as individuals—need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by one-half this decade and work to get to zero emissions as soon as possible. Waste minimization has a major role to play in allowing us to meet this necessary goal.

While many are eager to debate roll carts vs. trash bags, too few Columbians today are addressing the climate implications of our solid waste choices, despite the fact that the City Council, in adopting the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP), recognized the necessity of considering the climate implications of all policy decisions.

As the North Carolina Dept. of Environmental Quality shares via their website: “Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are embodied in the materials and products we use every day – our food, clothes, cell phones and computers, purchases and packaging, the materials used to build our homes. Extracting raw materials to make new products uses large amounts of energy, which comes from burning fossil fuels. Energy produced from the combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and other GHGs that cause climate change into the atmosphere. 

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that 42 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions are associated with materials management through the provision of goods and food produced in the United States. Reducing consumption, recycling, and composting leads to significant reductions in GHG emissions.”

Regarding the issue at hand, Peaceworks is not currently taking a position on roll carts vs. trash bags on the curb. Rather, we are urging the City to embrace a set of policies that ensures that, whatever plan Columbia ends up adopting, will incorporate incentives to reduce waste generation and to increase diversion through promoting re-thinking, reuse, repurposing, recycling and composting.

A critical component of such a plan is Pay As You Throw (PAYT). Whatever plan we adopt must require those who generate more waste to pay more, which is consistent with what we do for electricity, water, sewage, gas, etc. Just as we meter these other utilities, we need a system that charges more to those who are sending more to the landfill. Or looked at another way, rewards those who make the effort to divert as much as possible of what’s currently going to the landfill. This can be done through not buying these so-called “disposable” items or their packaging in the first place or through reusing and repurposing things currently being sent to the landfill, or through recycling and composting.

Whatever means of refuse collection the City adopts needs to be seen as just one part of the solution to waste problems. The plan must be complemented by a city-wide educational effort to raise awareness as to the urgent need for all of us to reduce our contribution to what gets landfilled. The failure to lay all this out contributed to the failure to support the logo-bag modified PAYT system.

We need to explain to our fellow residents not just the mechanics of the system, but also the rationale for waste minimization. This effort needs to go beyond just articles in City Source or social media posts and emails from the Office of Sustainability, as important as these are. We need to reach out through houses of worship, through our children’s schools, through neighborhood associations, through our colleges and the University, and through other community groups and events. Outreach tables at public gatherings and festivals reach many who otherwise are not being reached.

Just as the attack on Pearl Harbor at the beginning of World War II united the country in a recognition of the existential threat the country was facing, and led to the embrace of many changes that impacted our entire society (including the wartime need to recycle), so today we must recognize the threat to our lives and those of our progeny, and take action to address the threat.

The fact that the city is likely embarking on a new system for waste collection provides an excellent opportunity to reach out to all our fellow residents and make them more aware of the nature of the Climate Emergency we are facing and explaining some of the solutions. We, at Peaceworks, are hopeful that our community will rise to the challenge and take effective action, setting an example for neighboring communities to emulate.

For more information or dialogue on the issues at hand, please contact: Mid-Missouri Peaceworks via
mail@midmopeaceworks.org or via Facebook.com/MidMoPeaceworks or 804 E. Broadway Ste. C, Columbia, MO 65201 or 573-875-0539.