Friday, November 9, 2012

Election's over, let's get back to saving the planet

Now that the Presidential election is over, maybe we can get back to saving the planet.

Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, is vacationing on Kaua`i, and took, the time to give a couple of talks.

His message: The planet needs saving, and the job is so huge that you might despair. His further message: You can’t do everything, but be sure to do something.

“We’re facing urgent ecological pressures,” he said. The climate is changing. Species are going extinct at a rate of one every 20 minutes. Forests are being destroyed at a rate of an acre per second (38 million acres last year). Most of the plastic in the world is not recycled, and a lot of it ends up in the ocean, where it outweighs a lot of biological organisms.

Hershkowitz is considered the father of the “greening” movement, which he describes as reviewing a business or industry’s operations with an eye to reducing impact.

Individuals and communities can “green” themselves, too. 

His message to his Kaua`i audiences: If you do one thing, recycle. The impact of using raw materials in manufacturing is immense, and recycling is an answer. It saves energy, it saves money, it creates jobs, it saves forests (does it make any sense at all to use virgin fiber for toilet paper?) and mountains (mountaintop-removal coal mining).

We’re cutting down tropical forests and destroying entire ecosystems for paper, when we could make the same paper out of agricultural waste like corn stalks.

That used plastic bottle is entirely lost if it goes into a landfill. It creates a tiny bit of energy if it’s burned in Honolulu’s HPOWER waste-to-energy plant. But if recycled, it saves far more energy than is used to make a bottle out of virgin materials—and it also saves raw.

Hershkowitz doesn’t much care whether your community separates your recyclables at home (more efficient waste stream with lower processing cost, but lower participation, higher collection cost) or uses a single stream system that separates the recyclables after collection (threat of recyclable contamination, higher participation, lower collection cost but higher processing cost).

He just wants you to do something. And indeed, the communities of Hawai`i have been stumbling along the path to doing something for some time. As an example, Kaua`i County has been talking about a Materials Recovery Facility for two decades.

“There’s no MRF on Kaua`i. That makes no sense to me,” Hershkowitz said. “There are companies that will come and build them and pay to do so.”

Here’s a YouTube piece on how a MRF works.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2012

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