July has come and gone, but not without leaving us a few morsels of waste & recycling goodness for us to pick up off the side of the road. This month we take a look at the tweetable future of waste collection, a British man’s indignation towards food waste, the perils and pitfalls of waste management contracts, and the unlikely relationship between property values and landfills (nose plugs are recommended, but not provided).
1. Trash Cans Can Tweet, But Selfies Prove Difficult
Finnish startup Enevo has designed trash cans
that compose more coherent tweets than most celebrities can muster with two functional thumbs. And unlike the vapid navel-gazing offered by many an A-lister, these trash cans provide valuable information about capacity, internal temperature, usage history, and other data points that translate into real savings for city trash collectors. Every bit of information collected by Enevo’s trash cans is fed into a system that calculates optimal waste collection schedules and devises the most efficient pickup routes. Accorrding the the company, this system can end up reducing collection costs by up to 50%. The system cuts a lot of these costs by eliminating the possibility of overflowing trash cans and removing the need to make stops at bins that are nowhere near full.
So far, the company has deployed 10,000 of its tweety containers in 35 countries, with another 20,000 planned by the end of the year. Future features include leaving judgmental recycling comments on Facebook, Snapchatting pics of trash items that have been discreetly discarded in the middle of the night, and Periscoping people in the act of littering even though there’s a trash bin literally five feet away recording them while they do it.
2. Food Waste Gets a Scolding on ‘Last Week Tonight’
On July 19th’s episode of “Last Week Tonight” John Oliver took his satirical scalpel to food waste, carving out an excoriating view on the food industry and its wasteful practices. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40% of all food produced in the US never makes it to the table, instead becoming a garnish for landfills. While it would be easy to lay the blame squarely at the feet of America’s “rampant consumerism”, his segment shows that manufacturers share a good portion of the blame because of the incoherent and misleading labels they use. “Sell by” and “use by” dates lead consumers to believe that any food past the stamped on date is suddenly inedible, even though most foods are perfectly fine well past the date indicated. Adding to the confusion is the inconsistency of these labels, which can easily say two different things on identical products or simply not be included on the packaging altogether. This has led me to believe that all food is a conspiracy and the only solution is kale. #kalechips
3. Waste Management Gets Litigious, Kills the Vibe
San Franciscans harbor a considerable amount of pride in their recycling rate which sits at a pretty 80%, the highest reported rate in the nation. A large part of their recycling success is
attributable to the city’s sole waste hauler, Recology, who worked with the city of San Francisco to divert as much waste as possible from area landfills after the city made recycling and composting mandatory in 2009. That partnership is now being challenged by Waste Management of Alameda County which recently filed suit against the city in order to block its $130 million contract with Recology. It reasons that the city’s Board of Supervisors must approve contracts covering 10 year terms or more, whereas the recently awarded contract covers a period that is decidedly less than that, and the city should therefore reopen the bidding process. Who will win the Battle of the Bay Area Bag Tossers? Whose legal-fu jives best with the culture of the Haight-Ashbury? I don’t know, but all this negativity is killing my joie de vivre. And I’m all out of granola.
4. The Unexpected Zero (Financial) Impact of Landfills
According to Montana State University professor Richard Ready, the conventional wisdom that landfills lower property values is not as universal as previously thought. It turns out that low-volume landfills, defined as accepting less than 500 tons of waste per day, can have virtually no impact on real estate prices. By performing a meta-analysis of all available landfill/home value studies, and looking at data from three different landfills in Pennsylvania, Dr. Ready was able to show that a quarter of homes adjacent to low-volume landfills experience no change in their value. Other homes did see a bit of a dip, but the average decrease was only 2.73%, significantly lower than the 13.75% drop seen in homes adjacent to high-volume landfills (those processing 500 tons or more waste per day). Still, the results of an unofficial office-wide survey indicate that even with this new found information in hand, most people would rather “eat their left shoe” than live next door to a landfill.