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Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Whole Lot of Trash Talkin’ at Westport Library

A Whole Lot of Trash Talkin’ at Westport Library
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Reducing, reusing, recycling, composting. These were just a few of the strategies a select panel of experts recommended to a full house of eco-conscious citizens with regard to achieving zero trash.

The experts included representatives from the Green Village Initiative (GVI) and Town of Westport and all were part of a presentation titled “The Zero Garbage Concept” given in the McManus Room at Westport Library Wednesday evening.

The GVI started in Westport in 2009 with a mission to make the region a model of what is possible with local action towards a sustainable future. Its efforts have included the installation of edible gardens at area schools and senior centers, establishing a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm serving 150 families, initiating a water clean-up plan and work to ban pesticides and clear cutting of forests. 

The talk began with a screening of the award-winning animated environmental short film, “The Story of Stuff”. Narrated by Annie Leonard, the 2007 production, which has enjoyed over 12 million online views to date, discusses the way we create and deal with waste. It touched on such topics as flame retardants and toxins, the planned obsolence of products, the endangerment of factory workers, harmful incineration and the role of advertising in contributing to our excessive consumption. It made the case that we have a system in crisis but that it can be fixed with new strategies.

Dr. David Brown, a Westport resident and public health toxicologist, was the first speaker of the evening to recommend a few new approaches, at least in a general sense. His extensive study of the health effects of ground water being contaminated by toxic materials leaching from landfills led him to become an advocate for change. He said we are doing a lot to alter our ways but we can do more. “Tell each other about your good efforts, look to the past to see how materials were reused and help people see things differently,” he suggested.

Steve Edwards, Westport’s Director of Public Works, was glad to announce significant change. He said that the current recycling system, which was introduced to the town in 1991, is being modified to accommodate a wider range of commodities. To go into effect July 1, the system is expected to increase recycling 20 - 30% while simplifying the process for consumers.

“Right now, we can only recycle plastics coded #1 or #2,” he said. “The new process will accommodate all the plastics from 1 to 7. We’ll also take chipboard (e.g. cereal boxes) and aseptic containers (juice boxes, milk cartons). Consumers will be able to place everything in a single collection bin versus having to separate out newspapers from glass and metal as they do now.”

Edwards added that the town already processes electronics, to the tune of four tons a month, a rate which leads the state.

Sharing easy-to-adopt secrets of composting was Dina Brewster, whose family has owned The Hickories farm in Ridgefield since 1936. The 20-acre site is now a CSA farm, to which 225 families subscribe.

“I made a New Years resolution to adopt ‘food thrift,’” she said, “limiting what I consume, waste and throw away. Waste doesn’t exist in an ecological system. Think about food, yard clippings, dryer lint, paper and other carbon materials that you can compost, or sequester in the soil.”

Brewster said composting can be easy or complex, as an individual prefers. “You can have a simple ‘rot pile’ that’s turned over periodically,” she said. “Or you can have a two-bin system, wherein you move debris from one bin to another, turning it over. Two to three inches of the soil created can be sprinkled over a lawn. A third option is a worm bin – worms are incredibly efficient at digesting material and turning it into soil. Just have patience as you use the soil to convert a chemically managed plot to a biologically managed one.”

Deepika Saksena, who is initiating a GVI in Darien, explained how she was inspired to take the concept of reduce-reuse-recycle to a new level, striving for zero trash. “I travel a lot to countries in Asia, like India where I was born,” she said. “As the population goes up, the garbage volume is going up exponentially. Most of it is plastic, which never goes away. Often, trash the U.S. produces is sent to India, where it’s cheaper to process. A lot of the waste is electronic and people processing it there use low-tech handling and put themselves at extreme health risk. It made me think there must be a better way to handle trash. I realized the only way to do that was to reduce it, and decided to start with myself.”

Leaving the audience with a few strategies they could try at home, Saksena said, “In terms of reducing, I think three times before I buy something. I compost and try not to waste. I also try to buy local and have joined a CSA farm. I get my seasonal vegetables from there and use a freezer for storage. This is the main thing that reduces packaging usage. Over an average three-week period, I have maybe half a newspaper bag of trash. Anything else is composted or recycled.”