Baltimore’s Water Wheel Keeps On Turning, Pulling In Tons Of Trash

Read the full story from NPR.

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a city landmark teeming with tourists, restaurants and — until recently — floating trash.

John Kellett used to walk by Pier 6 every day on his way to work at the Baltimore Maritime Museum on the Inner Harbor. He’d notice the trash floating in the water and hear tourists call the harbor disgusting — and it bugged him.

That’s when he developed his idea: a big water wheel to collect the plastic cups, cigarette butts and Cheetos bags that flow into the waterway after rainstorms. Kellett approached Baltimore officials about ways to remove the trash — and they listened. The water wheel is now docked in the harbor.

From Trash to Treasure: Recapturing and Repurposing Our Garbage

Read the full story in Future Structure.

Closing the loop on waste – and integrating it with other systems – may be more than a noble policy goal. In fact, it may make smart economic sense as well. Waste streams often still contain things of remarkable value – if they are extracted and used in the right way. Landfill mining advocates note that landfills have a higher concentration of aluminum than the metallic ore that is normally used as a raw material. The East Bay Municipal Utility District in California is using food and bio waste to save $3 million per year and generate more than enough electricity to meet its own needs. “Waste to energy” projects are cropping up in Mexico, Canada, Scotland and Norway. And as water rights become an increasingly difficult issue – especially in the American West and South – reusing water from the waste stream is a particularly encouraging prospect.

How Water, Waste and Energy Systems Shape Our Future

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Our cities are massive, interconnected systems marked by complexity. But often the most crucial components of urban life are overlooked because they happen underground or out of view. In this edition of FutureStructure, we examine three of these critical systems – water, waste and energy. We discuss the challenges cities face, including outdated infrastructure and siloed decision-making, as well as the promise for positive change in emerging technologies and more informed policies. Download this issue to access the following articles:

• The Unseen City: How What We Can’t See Shapes Our Future
• The Blue Economy: New Strategies for Optimizing our Most Precious Resource
• From Trash to Treasure: Recapturing and Repurposing our Waste
• Generating the Post-Carbon City: Clean Energy Cities will Require Changes in Both Policy and Technology

The Cigarette Litter Menace: Is It Time To Ban Cigarette Butts?

Read the full story at Fast Company.

Cigarette butts are no ordinary litter menace. First, there are so many of them; they’re always the most numerous in litter counts. In one audit in San Francisco, “tobacco product wastes” (which includes butts, wrappers and packaging) made up 24.6% of the total litter count.

Butts also contain several toxins that accumulate after smoking, including chemicals from preparing tobacco, and additives that flavor cigarettes and let them to burn longer. That includes the flavoring ethyl phenol, which is harmful at higher concentrations.

In a new paper in Current Environmental Health Reports, Thomas Novotny and Elli Slaughter of San Diego State University argue that “tobacco product wastes” (TPW) are an under-appreciated problem, and that current strategies like anti-littering laws aren’t addressing it enough.

Michigan use of state’s landfills continues decline; Canadian imports up

Read the full post at Great Lakes Echo.

Despite a slight increase in Michigan’s population, 2013 witnessed a decline of 0.5 percent in solid waste generated in the state, continuing a 10-year  trend, according to a report by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

And the state still has almost three decades’ worth of landfill capacity, the report said.

Waste imported from other states and Canada increased by more than 8 percent.

Canada is the largest source of imported trash, accounting for about 17 percent of the total waste landfilled in Michigan last year, according to the report.

New 3D Visuals Simplify Waste Sorting

Read the full story from the University of Washington.

Sorting your waste at UW is now a little clearer with 3-D visuals showing ideal disposal. The new visuals, located in the HUB and By George Café, aim to simplify waste disposal on campus and encourage greater composting and recycling. UW Sustainability led the project in partnership with the UW Garbology Project, UW Housing and Food Services, and UW Recycling.

The visuals are made from waste bins cut in half and filled with items commonly disposed of on campus. A set of three visuals (compost, recycling, landfill) each show items sorted into the correct bins. This cross-section approach proved to have an improved impact on waste sorting behaviour in a two-month study conducted by the UW Garbology Project.

Minnesota garbage study offers ‘wake up call,’ pollution control agency head says

Read the full story from MPR News.

Food waste and other organic material made up nearly a third of what Minnesotans sent to landfills in 2012, according to a new study state officials released Monday.

The Waste Composition Report, released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, found that organics accounted for 31 percent of the waste stream; 25 percent of the waste stream was paper and 18 percent was plastic. A category called “other wastes,” which includes things like furniture, appliances and carpet, also accounted for 18 percent, and metal, glass and electronics were in the single digits.

The last time the MPCA conducted such a study was in 2000. Since then, plastic has made up a bigger part of the waste stream, but the percentage of paper being thrown away has decreased, likely because there are fewer newspapers, the study concluded.

Still, Minnesotans are throwing away about a million tons of recyclable materials in a year that are worth about $217 million, the report said.

The demographics of garbage: What are Minnesotans really throwing away?

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is releasing a waste composition report today, which highlights trends of recycling in Minnesota. Some key findings:

  • The amount of plastic thrown away has increased from 11 percent of the waste stream to 18 percent since 2000.
  • Paper in the waste stream has decreased from 34 percent to 25 percent, likely due to decreased printing of newspapers.
  • Twelve thousand tons, or 24 million pounds, of aluminum beverage containers were discarded in Minnesota in 2012—the equivalent of 3.6 million aluminum cans per day.
  • Over 543,000 tons (1 billion pounds) of recyclable paper were discarded in Minnesota in 2012.
  • 21,000 tons (41 million pounds) of PET beverage container plastic were discarded in 2012.
  • Organics (food) accounts for 31 percent of the waste stream, which is a 21 percent increase from the 2000 study.

The study investigated what Minnesotans are throwing into the garbage and how much. The last waste composition study was completed in 2000. Due to their high cost, waste composition studies are not conducted regularly, but they do provide valuable information for the MPCA’s solid waste programs.  Data from this study will be used to target recyclable materials that are being thrown away in large quantities and promote increased efforts at recycling.

The 2013 waste composition study indicates there is less paper and less glass in the waste stream, but more plastic and more food waste. This speaks to the need to find a way to recycle more types of plastics, and to establish more organics collection opportunities to handle the large amount of food waste that is being thrown away.

“The organics information is the most obvious issue we can, and will, address with more organics recycling and composting,” the MPCA’s Peder Sandhei said. “There are many findings to discuss and strategize to improve from this report, but the main point is that we’re discarding valuable resources, and jobs are lost with every garbage truck that’s emptied.”

The study also shows that Minnesotans are discarding a large amount of material that is currently recyclable — material that can be used to create jobs in the local economy. Some of the Minnesota companies that make or produce products out of recycled material are Rock-Tenn in St. Paul; Bedford Technology in Worthington; By The Yard in Jordan; Master Mark in Paynesville; Liberty Paper in Becker; New Page in Duluth; and Gerdeau Ameristeel in South St. Paul.

“This report is a wake-up call. Minnesotans take great pride in environmental stewardship, but these numbers suggest we’re not living up to our reputation,” John Linc Stine, commissioner of the MPCA, said. “The amount of plastic and aluminum we’re still seeing going to the landfill is much more than a lost environmental opportunity: it’s a lost economic opportunity as well. We are literally throwing away valuable resources that fuel jobs and economic activity; we’re burying opportunity in landfills.”

When material is taken out of the waste stream, jobs are created. Recycling benefits the economy by:

  • Creating jobs: approximately 37,000 jobs in Minnesota are directly and indirectly supported by the recycling industry. These jobs pay an estimated $1.96 billion in wages and add nearly $8.5 billion to Minnesota’s economy.
  • Generating profit: our recyclable material has tremendous economic value. In 2010, Minnesota recycling programs collected about 2.5 million tons of material worth $690 million.
  • Saving money: it cost Minnesota over $200 million to throw away 1 million tons of recyclable material in 2010. Instead, this waste could easily have been recycled for an additional estimated value of $217 million.

For more information and a copy of the report, go to