Pictured Above, Left to Right: Michael Madigan (Open Space Council), Mark Haubner, (Drawdown East End), Karen Blumer (Open Space Council), Rachel Carpitella (LI Organics Council), Beth Fiteni (Green Inside and Out), Kenny Rothwell (Winter Brothers Waste Management) on a recent tour of the Brookhaven Landfill

by Mark Haubner

We’ve talked in the last few columns about a Circular Economy which includes Zero Waste as a principle, and about a Repair Café, which is one of the very local actions in which everyone can take part. Today we are presenting a real-world example of this for all of us on Long Island—Taking A Lead on Zero Waste (TALZ-LI). Why the urgency? Our two Long Island landfills are closing in 2024—only 100 weeks from now. All solid waste will have to be either burned or trucked or railed off Long Island to open pit waste sites as far as 350 miles away (Pennsylvania and Ohio) at our increased expense. The solution? Think Big, think Circular, think Zero.

Where it Starts

You may have had a car once into which you poured countless dollars, but which never became dependable. Likewise, we talk about and tinker with our current solid waste systems, which are only responses to waste in a linear economy, instead of creating an integrated set of solutions that are part of an effective circular economy where there is no waste, just resources to be recovered and reused.

We propose to let go of the failed logic of our current system of simply moving our solid waste from one pile to another and replacing the Take-Make-Use and Throw away (to Ohio!) model with something that mirrors the workings of the planet herself: Zero Waste. Instead of simply using discarded trash once or twice (as we do with our paper and aluminum cans) we make use of all waste which is seen instead as recovered resources, circulating products and materials at their highest value. The next step is to reintroduce these products back into the design and creation phase of manufacturing (for technological materials) which prevents the need for new materials at the point of creation. By reintroducing our food waste (organic materials) to our soils in the form of compost, we will quickly see great benefit.

How Far Back Do We Have to Step to See the Big Picture?

Think about the sources of waste on Long Island: 3 million people, thousands of businesses, dozens of municipalities, and all of these have overlapping layers of jurisdiction, interests and goals. So where to start?

Our own waste industry has identified the sources of solid waste: consumer waste, food waste, incinerator ash, construction & demolition debris and more. With our Long Island landfills closing so soon, we can simply continue reacting to our situation or we can decide to be proactive in redesigning new systems with cascading health, environmental and economic benefits.

Who to Bring to the Table?

We are searching for groups of energetic citizens with a spate of talents dedicated to convening as many as 200 seemingly disparate groups: This is TALZ-LI. Representatives from social, economic, environmental, governance and technology groups must be at the table for us to make this happen. Everyone is included — no voice too small, no idea too far out — to achieve the Mission of Zero Waste. Every effort — from residential, industrial, commercial, institutional and governance, from civic associations to regional industry leaders — is crucial to managing every bit of our municipal solid waste through both diversion and reduction to the point of 100 percent recovery, reuse and return to manufacturers and to new businesses by 2040.

Project Drawdown: 

The Handbook

Thankfully, we have this resource on which to rely. One high-impact target measured by both scientists and economists is zeroing in on food waste, which ranked as Solution #1. Why? All our solid waste creates carbon dioxide, but food waste creates methane, which is a great deal more harmful. Food is part of every person’s life and recovering 750 tons a day of it from our households is not going to be an easy task. But there are thousands of people in hundreds of cities and towns who have pledged to reduce and reuse their food waste (think compost) —waste not, want not!

Instant Action

TALZ-LI applauds the North Fork Environmental Council’s launch of a Repair Café in Greenport on Saturday, April 23, one of only 200 in the U.S. Building community, extending ourselves to our neighbors and putting objects back into service without tossing them to the curb are the simple goals of this activity. We are creating a model that we will be promoting throughout the Peconic Bioregion in the coming months.

Saving money is high on our minds as gasoline and food prices rise. We are all looking to save some money where we can — turning down the heat, combining our car trips, reducing our food waste (I saw beef at $17.99/pound this week). This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce emissions, whether at home, in a restaurant or grocery store, and we of TALZ-LI have plenty of ideas to help you do that.

Laying the Foundation

We are building a giant community building one stone at a time—creating something wonderful, healthy and lasting for our region. To advance a Community Engagement project of this scale we will adhere to a simple principle: Ask early, ask often, ask everyone. Because it is going to require every single one of us Taking A Lead on Zero Waste.Get more information and lend a hand. Find more info at talzli.org.

Mark Haubner has been recycling newspaper since 1965, and not seeing his example being followed by everyone on the planet, started learning Science Communication in earnest about six years ago. He got a Certificate in Sustainability and Behavior Change from the University of California at San Diego (the daily commute was grueling) and now writes Community Based Social Marketing programs for the various nonprofits with which he is involved.

Climate Local Now is a partnership between the East End Beacon and Drawdown East End, whose mission is to inspire local solutions to reverse global warming. |  DrawdownEastEnd.org

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

One thought on “Climate Local Now: Taking a Lead on Zero Waste for Long Island

  1. We can all be part of the solution of using less energy and producing less waste. I have been composting food scraps, hanging my clothes in the sun to dry, using fans instead of air conditioning, limiting and consolidating trips by car, and eating more vegetables than meat. People just don’t think that saving the planet can start with them. I applaud the law that ended using plastic bags for everything. We need to limit plastic packaging, as well. Reusable are the way to go.

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