I'm no specialist when it comes to our trash, but I do know it's something we should all start moving our attention towards. I recently read that San Diego's landfill is likely to be full in approximately 9 years if we maintain our current process of trash collection, and let me tell you, those 9 years are going to pass by a lot quicker than we think. We can't keep waiting until problems have completely infested our way of life before we pause to look at them. Now is the time to contemplate solutions and think of the ways we can change human behavior to avoid the direction we are headed in.
I was recently filled with joy to see that many of San Diego's restaurants and cafes had moved towards the use of compostable bioplastics. Likely the result of a growing demand from consumers wanting a more Earth-conscious alternative for their takeout meals. Yay, what a relief! But what stung after, was learning most of these compostable bioplastics cannot break down in a home composter and need to head to a commercial compost in order to actually decompose. Certainly fortunate, these compostable bioplastics are made from renewable resources such as corn, sugarcane, cellulose, soy protein, potatoes, and more, unlike their nasty plastic counterparts made from fossil fuels. The challenge is that these same renewable counterparts that take 52% less energy and 80% less greenhouse gases to produce than regular petro-plastics (yay), still require a specific compost environment to actually biodegrade.
I put a call into San Diego's Environmental Services line right away because I have an intricate system in place for my home waste, and wanted to see where I could take these bioplastics to be handled with the lowest impact to Earth. What I got was a kind woman on the other end of the line that said she had no idea where to take the compostable bioplastics, and recommended I reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. They confirmed what I hoped wasn't true. They advise to throw these bioplastics into the landfill since they do not accept these in the blue bins (bioplastics can contaminate entire bins of recycling and since they appear to look like plastic are often misplaced here) or green bins (where your yard waste lands at a local composting facility, only if you're lucky enough to have a green bin at your house). From what I've learned, our local Miramar Greenery cannot process these bioplastics because it uses a covered aerated static pile to process yard waste and food waste (from commercial sites only). These bioplastics need instead a commercial compost that can consistently grind and aerate the organics to actually cause them to break down. This decomposition occurs sometimes after several months of composting.
Once these bioplastics make their way to the landfill, just like all other organic materials that are not composted (food scraps, yard waste, etc.), they begin to produce methane gas due to lack of oxygen. They remain there unable to biodegrade, trapped without air, and pollute our air, waterways, and land. Not to mention, the methane gas produced from these organic materials abandoned at landfills is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide itself.
San Diego's recycling team did mention that some neighboring cities with aerobic digester are starting to roll out collection of organics like bioplastics, but being a large municipal city like San Diego, why aren't we leading the way in this? Why aren't we investing in a compost facility that can biodegrade San Diegan's food waste, yard waste, and bioplastics? And why aren't we working towards making it as easy as just throwing all compostables into a green bin (yard waste, food scraps, bioplastics, and more)? We need to create a convenient way for our community to reduce what they send to the landfill.
So what's the solution? We need to change our human behavior, we need to educate people on the facts, and we need to mobilize with local advocacy groups towards a solution for trash collection, composting, and landfills. Continuing to pile up our overconsumption, waste, and discards is only an acceptable solution now, because we aren't faced with the reality of what happens after our trash bags leave our curbs. As the mountains of trash pile up, we can choose to ignore it, but I have a better idea. Let's choose second hand, let's repair rather than replace, let's buy only what we need, let's educate ourselves, let's contact our local governments, let's advocate for our grocery store to be a "How2Recycle" drop-off location for film plastic, let's refuse plastic purchases, let's recycle, let's compost our food scraps, let's put our yard waste in that green bin, and let's all get involved with saving Mother Earth!